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Transforming Drug Development

January 20, 2010 | Special Report | As we embark on a new year and a new decade, there’s not much doubt what biotech and pharma companies are wishing for: the ability to more accurately and expeditiously develop safe new drugs, ideally tailored (through companion diagnostics or patient stratification) to responsive segments of the population. In this issue of Bio•IT World, we present a collection of reports and interviews that showcase a variety of projects, people, and approaches that might bear fruit.

The cover features Andrew Hopkins, a chemist and informaticist who left his high-profile position at Pfizer to join an exciting new research center in the appropriately-named City of Discovery, at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Hopkins, best known for his work on the druggable genome, shares ideas for improving the efficiency of drug development by applying “a plethora of informatics methods to the concept of information-driven drug discovery” [see page 27].

Another organization touting the central role of informatics is Centocor, the research arm of Johnson & Johnson, where Eric Perakslis and colleagues have designed and deployed TranSMART, a rich knowledgebase developed with a company called Recombinant, which is winning admirers within the company and potential partners beyond [see page 33].

The end goal of all this technology is to identify drugs faster, cheaper, and better, but sometimes the real world cruelly intervenes. The fate of a promising heart drug called DG051 is in limbo following the decision of Iceland’s deCODE Genetics to file for bankruptcy, but the story of its rapid development and successful entry into the clinic is a valuable one, not least for showcasing the gene-to-structure capabilities of Seattle’s Emerald BioStructures [see page 24].

Avila Therapeutics is a Boston-based pharma that is placing a huge bet on covalent, irreversible inhibitors, which it sees as the key to new therapeutics. The improved specificity and pharmacological properties afforded by covalent drugs could speed passage through the clinic. Avila has two compounds on course to enter the clinic later this year [page 36].

In India, the Open Source Drug Development initiative is marshalling hundreds of researchers to help in the battle to develop drugs for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, where the medical need far outstrips the perceived commercial opportunity [see page 32]. Another promising collaborative endeavor is taking place in the Arizona desert (OK, Tucson), where the Critical Path Institute is starting to earn results in biomarker validation and other areas, working with pharma partners and the Food and Drug Administration [see page 35]. Elsewhere in this issue [see page 5], we look at The Pistoia Alliance, a promising pharma-initiated consortium for research informatics and pre-competitive information sharing.

We round out this report with pieces on Accelrys [see page 26], which is seeing strong interest in its software service capabilities, particularly in the area of biologics. And Ryan DeBeasi reports from CHI’s Discovery on Target [see page 38]. Elsewhere in this issue, the Russell Transcript [see page 46] looks at Tessella, the British-based informatics consultancy.

Like the aforementioned, we hope that some of these initiatives and approaches do indeed begin to transform drug development in 2010, and we look forward to highlighting further examples throughout the year.

Kevin Davies
Allison Proffitt
John Russell

This article also appeared in the January-February 2010 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine.
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