Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Drug Development Innovation’

If like me, you didn’t attend TEDMED in Washington DC, then you can now watch videos from the TEDMED 2012 conference.

With my interest in innovation and how to bring drugs to market faster, one video that caught my attention was by Francis Collins MD, PhD, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who talked about the challenges of going from basic science (fundamental knowledge) to its application.

In his presentation, Dr Collins talks about how it can take 14 years of research and the screening of 10,000 compounds to bring 1 new drug to market.

Drug Development Pipeline

How can we do better was the theme of his presentation, how to make drug development go faster and be more successful?

One way to go faster is to take advantage of technology such as the ability to read the human genome, the cost of which has dramatically decreased.

Cost of Sequencing Human Genome

Using progeria as an example, Dr Collins discussed how older drugs may be effective in new indications.  Drug repurposing will be a partnership between academia, government, private sector and patient organizations, he said.

NIH Drug Repurposing Table

He also discussed how human cells can be used to test whether drugs are going to be safe and effective before any animal or human experiments are done.

The opportunities for drug development are exciting if the right partnerships, talent and funding are put in place. It will be interesting to see how Dr Collins vision plays out over the next few years.

I expect that as we learn more about the human genome, and better understand molecular targets, we will see more new drugs come to market that make a difference in the lives of patients.

The video below is well worth watching:

There was so much good science on display at the recent 2012 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago that any blog posts are but a personal snapshot or postcard.

Bill Sellers VP Global Head Oncology Novartis Institutes for BioMedical ResearchOne enduring image I have from the plenary presentation on “The Genetic Basis for Cancer Therapy” by Bill Sellers, VP/Global Head Oncology at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research was the video he showed of the robots that are used for automated cell profiling.

Imagine the advertisements that show robots being used to build cars, but now the robots are undertaking automated laboratory work in pursuit of new cancer compounds. Wow!

During his presentation, Sellers described how Novartis have built a robust preclinical translational infrastructure.

He went on to say that, “many experiments we have done in the past, and even many molecules that were put in the human, really were only profiled against a limited number of preclinical models such as one cell line.”

In order to make preclinical data more reproducible, Novartis had the goal to move from testing against one cell line to testing against an encyclopedia of cell lines.

This has now become a reality with the launch of the Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE) in collaboration with the Broad Institute. The CCLE was recently announced by Novartis in a media release, and details were published online on March 28, 2012 in a letter to “Nature” (doi:10.1038/nature11003).

The Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia enables predictive modelling of anticancer drug sensitivity

As described in “Nature”:The Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE) is a compilation of gene expression, chromosomal copy number and massively parallel sequencing data from 947 human cancer cell lines.

When coupled with pharmacological profiles for 24 anticancer drugs across 479 of the cell lines, this collection allowed identification of genetic, lineage, and gene-expression-based predictors of drug sensitivity.

Sellers noted in his AACR plenary presentation that the key to using the CCLE is for profiling and to:

“identify subsets of cancer cell lines that are sensitive to a given therapeutic versus those that are not. And then better yet to identify the markers of sensitivity that are differentially expressed or present in the sensitive versus insensitive cell lines.”

Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research Automated Robotic Drug DiscoveryTo do this, Sellers described how Novartis have built a robotic system that e.g. automates cell profiling.  In approx 3 months with this system we can profile 600 cell lines for about 1500 compounds, he said.

This type of preclinical automation is speeding up cancer drug discovery through the ability to more rapidly identify those compounds that are associated with and have activity against different mutations.

In my view, this will drive innovation through the effective and efficient screening of potential new cancer compounds, with the result that only those compounds with demonstrable promise progress.

AACR have made Bill Sellers plenary presentation available as a free webcast from the 2012 annual meeting (along with several others).  I encourage anyone interested in how cancer biology is driving cancer drug development to watch this.

Academic institutions are now bringing pharma/biotech companies together and facilitating rational combination trials that make solid scientific sense.

Combining at least two targeted drugs looks to be increasingly necessary in order to develop innovative new cancer treatments, where turning off one target may stimulate another, thus both need to be targeted for there to be an overall effect.

However, one company may not have all the pathways and drug targets covered by their portfolio.  The result is that companies may have to work together in combination trials with each providing one drug from their portfolio.

That was one of the key messages I took from Gordan Mills (UT MD Anderson Cancer Center) in his recent video interview with Sally Church from Pharma Strategy Blog:

Sally Church’s video interview with Professor Mills is well worth watching if you have not already done so.

Not only are universities and research institutions well placed to judge the scientific merits, but as Mills points out they can facilitate things as an independent third party and actively help bring partnerships together.  Given that combination therapies may be needed in order to turn off different parts of signaling pathways and cross-talk, I think we are likely to see more of this approach.

It’s going to be new territory for many companies – how to enter into a potential joint venture or alliance? However, if it results in a therapy that works, it is going to be win-win for all parties. It may also improve efficiency in drug development and lead to better use of patients in early stage development.

Some examples of where this is happening already in oncology include AstraZeneca and Merck with their MEK-AKT approach and GSK (MEK) with Novartis (PI3K), to name a couple.  This is a new trend we are likely to see more of in the future.

I can see universities hiring alliance managers who have industry experience to ensure these collaborations run smoothly.

The topic of the industry/academia interface in rational cancer drug development will also be discussed in a plenary session at the forthcoming American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics (November 12-16, 2011) in San Francisco.

How academia can better help the pharma/biotech industry bring innovative, rational drug combinations to market is a topic that I think we will be reading more about in coming months.

error: Content is protected !!