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37th Annual J.P. Morgan HEALTHCARE CONFERENCE: News at #JPM2019 for Jan. 10, 2019: Deals and Announcements

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

From Biospace.com

 

JP Morgan Healthcare Conference Update: Sage, Mersana, Shutdown Woes and Babies

Speaker presenting to audience at a conference

With the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference winding down, companies remain busy striking deals and informing investors about pipeline advances. BioSpace snagged some of the interesting news bits to come out of the conference from Wednesday.

SAGE Therapeutics – Following a positive Phase III report that its postpartum depression treatment candidate SAGE-217 hit the mark in its late-stage clinical trial, Sage Therapeutics is eying the potential to have multiple treatment options available for patients. At the start of J.P. Morgan, Sage said that patients treated with SAGE-217 had a statistically significant improvement of 17.8 points in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, compared to 13.6 for placebo. The company plans to seek approval for SAGE-2017, but before that, the FDA is expected to make a decision on Zulresso in March. Zulresso already passed muster from advisory committees in November, and if approved, would be the first drug specifically for postpartum depression. In an interview with the Business Journal, Chief Business Officer Mike Cloonan said the company believes there is room in the market for both medications, particularly since the medications address different patient populations.

 

Mersana Therapeutics – After a breakup with Takeda Pharmaceutical and the shelving of its lead product, Cambridge, Mass.-based Mersana is making a new path. Even though a partial clinical hold was lifted following the death of a patient the company opted to shelve development of XMT-1522. During a presentation at JPM, CEO Anna Protopapas noted that many other companies are developing therapies that target the HER2 protein, which led to the decision, according to the Boston Business Journal. Protopapas said the HER2 space is highly competitive and now the company will focus on its other asset, XMT-1536, an ADC targeting NaPi2b, an antigen highly expressed in the majority of non-squamous NSCLC and epithelial ovarian cancer. XMT-1536 is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials for NaPi2b-expressing cancers, including ovarian cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and other cancers. Data on XMT-1536 is expected in the first half of 2019.

Novavax – During a JPM presentation, Stan Erck, CEO of Novavax, pointed to the company’s RSV vaccine, which is in late-stage development. The vaccine is being developed for the mother, in order to protect an infant. The mother transfers the antibodies to the infant, which will provide the baby with protection from RSV in its first six months. Erck called the program historic. He said the Phase III program is in its fourth year and the company has vaccinated 4,636 women. He said they are tracking the women and the babies. Researchers call the mothers every week through the first six months of the baby’s life to acquire data. Erck said the company anticipates announcing trial data this quarter. If approved, Erck said the market for the vaccine could be a significant revenue driver.

“You have 3.9 million birth cohorts and we expect 80 percent to 90 percent of those mothers to be vaccinated as a pediatric vaccine and in the U.S. the market rate is somewhere between $750 million and a $1 billion and then double that for worldwide market. So it’s a large market and we will be first to market in this,” Erck said, according to a transcript of the presentation.

Denali Therapeutics – Denali forged a collaboration with Germany-based SIRION Biotech to develop gene therapies for central nervous disorders. The two companies plan to develop adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors to enable therapeutics to cross the blood-brain barrier for clinical applications in neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and certain other diseases of the CNS.

AstraZeneca – Pharma giant AstraZeneca reported that in 2019 net prices on average across the portfolio will decrease versus 2018. With a backdrop of intense public and government scrutiny over pricing, Market Access head Rick Suarez said the company is increasing its pricing transparency. Additionally, he said the company is looking at new ways to price drugs, such as value-based reimbursement agreements with payers, Pink Sheet reported.

Amarin Corporation – As the company eyes a potential label expansion approval for its cardiovascular disease treatment Vascepa, Amarin Corporation has been proactively hiring hundreds of sales reps. In the fourth quarter, the company hired 265 new sales reps, giving the company a sales team of more than 400, CEO John Thero said. Thero noted that is a label expansion is granted by the FDA, “revenues will increase at least 50 percent over what we did in the prior year, which would give us revenues of approximate $350 million in 2019.”

Government Woes – As the partial government shutdown in the United States continues into its third week, biotech leaders at JPM raised concern as the FDA’s carryover funds are dwindling. With no new funding coming in, reviews of New Drug Applications won’t be able to continue past February, Pink Sheet said. While reviews are currently ongoing, no New Drug Applications are being accepted by the FDA at this time. With the halt of NDA applications, that has also caused some companies to delay plans for an initial public offering. It’s hard to raise potential investor excitement without the regulatory support of a potential drug approval. During a panel discussion, Jonathan Leff, a partner at Deerfield Management, noted that the ongoing government shutdown is a reminder of how “overwhelmingly dependent the whole industry of biotech and drug development is on government,” Pink Sheet said.

Other posts on the JP Morgan 2019 Healthcare Conference on this Open Access Journal include:

#JPM19 Conference: Lilly Announces Agreement To Acquire Loxo Oncology

36th Annual J.P. Morgan HEALTHCARE CONFERENCE January 8 – 11, 2018

37th Annual J.P. Morgan HEALTHCARE CONFERENCE: #JPM2019 for Jan. 8, 2019; Opening Videos, Novartis expands Cell Therapies, January 7 – 10, 2019, Westin St. Francis Hotel | San Francisco, California

37th Annual J.P. Morgan HEALTHCARE CONFERENCE: News at #JPM2019 for Jan. 8, 2019: Deals and Announcements

 

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Recents Thoughts of Biotech Innovation: 2015 2016

From WorldofDTCMarketing

Can’t innovate ? Buy small biotech companies that can

cloud-innovationOn a week where a lot of people are taking their final summer vacations the news is that Amgen is buying Onyx and AstraZeneca Plc took a further step to bolster its pipeline of new cancer drugs on Monday by agreeing to acquire privately held U.S. biotech company Amplimmune for up to $500 million.  On paper it’s a good business move but as big pharma companies gobble up small biotech companies they bring with then antiquated processes and business people who are thinking about the bottom line rather than patients.  The results ?  Innovation that led these smaller biotech companies to develop new drugs will be stymied by a bureaucratic business model.

There is a reason why, after being acquired, that so many employees of smaller biotech companies leave.  Either they don’t want to work for big a big pharma bureaucracy or the acquiring company determines that these people are not needed and shows them the door.  Behind all this are people who provided the start-up funding and want to cash in without awaiting the lengthy process of developing new drugs.  In the end however it’s patients who loose.

bureaucracy

Last week Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, announced his resignation.  There is a correlation between what happened at Microsoft and the challenges for big pharma.  Steve was forced out because Microsoft became a huge bureaucracy and could not innovate fast enough.  Those of us who have worked in pharma know of the endless 9-5 meetings to move even small projects forward.  Amgen’s culture revolves around back-to-back meetings with executives from other big pharma companies who are trying to put their power on display.  It’s only a matter of time before people from Onyx leave because of Amgen’s prohibitive culture.

Unknown

Until the costs of developing and launching new drugs is lower more and more innovative biotech firms are going to have a for sale sign hanging in the window hoping big pharma can help investors cash in.

And in a Commentary on CNBC

This is biotech’s real problem

Robert J. Mulroy, president and CEO of Merrimack

Thursday, 1 Oct 2015 | 9:38 AM ET

1

COMMENTJoin the Discussion

Here’s a challenge — name a biotech that’s not a small company with one potential blockbuster in the works or an industry giant that’s acquiring the hottest new technologies. Got one? Great! Now try to name four more.

Biotech

Jian Wan | Vetta | Getty Images

The fact is, midsize biotechs (Ironwood Pharmaceuticals andMedivation are couple of examples) are a rarity these days, and that’s a problem for patients, doctors and investors. Start-ups that are in the process of developing and drawing from a foundation of knowledge are often acquired once they have a promising candidate in the pipeline. If the associated research teams aren’t immediately jettisoned (just when their potential for broader breakthroughs is surging), the top innovators go off to launch another venture that doesn’t build on their current research.

There’s also enormous pressure to focus on that “next big thing” that can crowd out other innovations for patients, while blocking valuable, in-depth examination of existing treatments. In oncology, drug combinations (like Genentech’s combination of Herceptin, pertuzumab and docetaxel to treat HER-2 breast cancer) are making huge strides in prolonging patients’ lives. Such combinations require understanding how specific tumors grow, and designing diagnostics that tell doctors whether a patient’s tumor fits that profile. The problem? Not enough small biotechs have the luxury of developing that understanding before they’re acquired so that big biotechs can gain another drug candidate.

As the CEO of a cancer-focused biotech that’s spent the last 15 years building a diverse product pipeline — the lead candidate is under FDA review with a decision expected next month — my view is that pursuing individual drug targets will bring limited success. Cancer is the ultimate engineering challenge, and effective treatments need to address more than a single facet of the problem.

The real winners in the industry will be the companies that understand how their therapies work in combinations with their own and competing therapies, and help physicians make sense of the explosion of new treatments via companion diagnostics. In fact, regulators could potentially require a more integrated approach to manage the ever-increasing influx of new drugs and data. In August, the American Society of Clinical Oncology issued guidelines for doctors on interpreting multi-gene tests for cancer susceptibility, acknowledging the need for more education and regulation.

Most oncology biotech start-ups dream of developing such an integrated approach. But it takes time and money, and an environment that prioritizes in-depth scientific research.

Doing well by patients, doctors and investors means pursuing sustainable innovation, not just one-offs or single-use purchases. Innovation drives value and can build on itself to address complex challenges. And while innovation takes time and entails risk, it mitigates that risk in the long term.

For example, if you have a deep understanding of how your drug works — say, the tumor-growth mechanisms it disrupts — you can determine whether there are signs that the mechanism it targets is present in a particular patient and then enroll only those patients in clinical trials. That allows for smaller, less expensive trials — and a higher chance of success.

An integrated approach across the industry would allow drug developers to identify responders, and then eliminate the non-responders from clinical trials and from the target population post-approval, ensuring patients only receive treatments likely to benefit them and don’t waste their time enrolling in irrelevant trials.

The current cycle of big pharma acquiring start-ups and dismantling the research teams while divesting in their own R&D appears self-perpetuating, but cracks are showing in the high cost — now in the billions — of bringing a single drug to market.

These companies are dealing with outside pressures that stymie progress. Less than 10 percent of experimental oncology drugs ever get approved. A tactical approach to the pipeline makes sense from a risk-aversion perspective. But sustainable growth requires strategy and investments in the fundamental science work that drives innovation.

Commentary by Robert J. Mulroy, president and CEO of Merrimack, a biotech company focused on cancer treatments. Prior to joining Merrimack, Mr. Mulroy worked as a management consultant in the pharmaceutical and health-care industries. He has served as an advisor to multiple start-up companies in the biotechnology industry.

The New Biotechnology Innovation Organization

Jim's CornerAt BIO, new discoveries in research and development are constantly being made by our members. We take pride in the contributions they have made across a diverse range of biotechnology industries, including: healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental.

As one of the world’s strongest catalysts for innovation, our role within the biotechnology community requires us to reflect on who we are, what we do and how we can better serve our members in future.

Biotechnology scientists and entrepreneurs are not just industrious – they are revolutionary, imaginative, inspired, creative, ingenious and inventive. It is these traits that produce innovation.

BIO Logo Vertical RGBAs you may already know, starting today, the Biotechnology Industry Organization will become the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. It’s a one-word name change – from industry to innovation – but the implications are substantial.

Today is a time of tremendous innovation. So much so that our current name no longer best describes our members and our role as one of the world’s leading innovators.

BIO’s members are on the cutting-edge of science and we believe our new name will allow us to build upon our relationships, create new ones and provide our members with better educational and research opportunities.

Our members are discovering scientific breakthroughs and bringing new and innovative therapies to the marketplace. With the help of biotechnology, people are living longer and healthier lives. Our industry embodies innovation and made the world a better place for people everywhere.

Our meaningful innovations also provide the tools to help feed more people, develop new sustainable fuels and products to help protect the planet and devise unique clean technologies to make our environment safer.

In the more than 22 years since its founding, BIO has united scientists, policymakers and the public in a partnership to drive our remarkable progress even further.

It’s important to note that we are not becoming a different organization. We are not altering our mission or the value we deliver to our members.

We will, however, continue to blaze the trail to accelerate cures – connecting thought leaders, building a stronger, more advanced economy and creating jobs to raise the world’s standard of living.

In the coming years, BIO’s diverse membership – from promising startups to global companies in a wide array of biotechnology and related fields – will drive health, life expectancy and improve quality of life for millions of people.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization will be there to support our members in their tireless effort to make the world a better place to live.

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Invivoscribe, Thermo Fisher Ink Cancer Dx Development Deal

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

 

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Invivoscribe Technologies announced today that it has formed a strategic partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific to develop multiple next-generation sequencing-based in vitro cancer diagnostics.

Under the deal, Invivoscribe will develop and commercialize immune-oncology molecular diagnostics that run on Thermo’s Ion PGM Dx system, as well as associated bioinformatics software for applications in liquid biopsies. The tests will be specifically designed for both the diagnosis and minimal residual disease (MRD) monitoring of various hematologic cancers.

Additional terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.

“We are … very excited to provide our optimized NGS tests with comprehensive bioinformatics software so our customers can perform the entire testing and reporting process, including MRD testing, within their laboratories,” Invivoscribe CEO Jeffrey Miller said in a statement.

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Obesity Pharmaceutics

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

Battling the Bulge

Weight-loss drugs that target newly characterized obesity-related receptors and pathways could finally offer truly effective fat control.

By Bob Grant | November 1, 2015

http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/44322/title/Battling-the-Bulge/

http://www.the-scientist.com/November2015/NovBioBiz2_640px.jpg

Several years ago, antiobesity drug development was not looking so hot. In 2007, Sanofi-Aventis failed to win US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for rimonabant—a pill that successfully helped people shed pounds—because the drug carried risks of depression and suicidal thoughts. Then, in 2008, Merck pulled the plug on its Phase 3 trials of taranabant because it also engendered suicidal thoughts and neurological effects in some participants. And a decade before those late-stage disappointments, a couple of FDA-approved weight-loss drugs were making headlines for carrying dangerous side effects. In 1997, the FDA pulled the obesity medications fenfluramine (of the wildly popular fen-phen drug combination) and dexfenfluramine (Redux) off the market after research turned up evidence of heart valve damage in people taking the drugs.

By 2009, Big Pharma was backing out of the weight-loss market, with Merck and Pfizer abandoning their programs to develop drugs similar to rimonabant and taranabant, which block cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Although the antiobesity drug market was big—according to CDC estimates, about 35 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese—a blockbuster weight-loss pill that didn’t have serious side effects was proving elusive.

But a few firms, including several small biotechs, decided to stick with it. “Some of the prior experience with drugs on the market, like fen-phen and Redux, have likely led large pharma to view the therapeutic space with some conservatism,” says Preston Klassen, executive vice president and head of global development at Orexigen Therapeutics, a small, California-based firm. “And generally, when you have that situation, smaller companies will step into that void when the science makes sense.” And their perseverance is starting to pay off. After a years-long drought in approvals for antiobesity medications, in the past few years the FDA has approved four new drugs specifically for general obesity: Belviq and Qsymia in 2012, and Contrave and Saxenda in late 2014. Three of these four were developed by small companies whose success hinges on one or a few compounds aimed directly at treating general obesity.

The recent burst of antiobesity drug approvals reflects an evolving appreciation for the molecular intricacies of this multifaceted, chronic disease. Today’s antiobesity drugs—including the four recent approvals and several more in development—have traded the blunt cudgel of appetite suppression for more precise targeting of pathways known to play roles in obesity. “With our understanding of the complex biology of obesity and all of the different molecules and receptors involved in the process, we’re much better able to target those molecules and receptors,” says Arya Sharma, chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta in Canada. “These are very specific agents that are designed for very specific actions. There is renewed enthusiasm in this field.”

Looking to combos

In the mid-20th century, the FDA approved several weight-loss drugs, starting with the appetite suppressant desoxyephedrine (methamphetamine hydrochloride) in 1947. Like the other appetite-suppressing drugs the FDA later approved through the 1950s and ’60s, desoxyephedrine accomplished short-term weight loss, but the transient benefit did not justify the side effects of long-term use, such as addiction, psychosis, and violent behavior. In 1973, as the nation voiced concern about the overuse of amphetamines, the FDA decreed that all obesity drugs were approved only for short-term use. The most recently approved obesity drugs, on the other hand, all have the FDA’s okay for long-term weight management.

Three of the newly approved drugs, Contrave, Belviq, and Qsymia, also aim to suppress appetite, and like many previous weight-loss therapies, all do so by targeting the hypothalamus, the brain region thought to be the seat of appetite control. Although the precise mechanism of Belviq, which is manufactured by San Diego–based Arena Pharmaceuticals, is unknown, researchers think that the key is its activation of serotonin-binding 5-HT2C receptors in proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons in the hypothalamus. When activated, these neurons reduce appetite and increase energy expenditure, according to Orexigen’s Klassen. His company’s Contrave also activates POMC neurons in the hypothalamus, while at the same time inhibiting opioid receptors, which would otherwise work to shut down POMC neuron firing, in the brain’s mesolimbic reward pathway. Contrave achieves this one-two punch because it is a combination therapy, incorporating two different compounds into a single weight-loss pill.

“The concept of a silver or magic bullet whereby one drug meets all of the needs within the obesity space has thus far proven to be inadequate,” says Klassen. “Right now I think the predominant opinion is that combination therapy is an appropriate way to go.”

Vivus’s Qsymia is also a combination drug, composed of phentermine—the other half of fen-phen and an activator of a G protein–coupled receptor called TAAR1—and an extended-release form of topiramate, an anticonvulsant with weight-loss side effects. Novo Nordisk—one of the few Big Pharma firms that stayed in the obesity game as others fled—is also turning its attention to combo therapies, testing its pipeline of investigational weight-loss compounds with Saxenda, its recently approved medicine that mimics glucagon peptide-1 (GLP-1), an appetite and calorie-intake regulator in the brain. “You need to combine at least two molecules to get the optimum effect,” says Novo Nordisk executive vice president and chief scientific officer Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen. The company has five other weight-loss compounds in development, and “we’re actually combining Saxenda with all of these new molecules,” he adds.

The University of Alberta’s Sharma agrees that combination therapies are a smart approach for attacking the multilayered mechanisms at play in obesity. “You’re dealing with a system that is very complex and very redundant. When you block one, other molecules or other parallel systems kick in,” he says. “My prediction for the future is that in order to get good results, one will have to move toward combinations . . . of more-specific and more-novel agents.”

On the horizon

On the heels of the recent FDA approvals, several new compounds with novel mechanisms of action are making their way through the drug-development pipeline. While most antiobesity drugs to date have aimed to suppress appetite by targeting brain regions involved in feelings of hunger and satiety, Boston-based Zafgen (for which Sharma serves as a paid advisor) is going after methionine aminopeptidase 2 (MetAP2) receptors in the liver and adipose tissue. “We’ve been one of the first ones to show that there is a significant and major weight-regulation center that the body has that exists outside the hypothalamus,” says Zafgen chief medical officer Dennis Kim. “Our drug [beloranib] is tapping into that mechanism.”

 

Zafgen researchers are investigating beloranib’s mechanism of action in patients that became very obese after their hypothalamus was damaged or removed as a result of craniopharyngioma, a type of brain cancer. “In about half of these cases, patients wake up hungry after surgery and it’s unrelenting, and they become morbidly obese very rapidly,” Kim says. Because the hypothalamus is damaged or missing, antiobesity drugs that target this brain region are ineffective. But beloranib “works just as well in these patients compared to patients with intact hypothalamus,” Kim says. As a result, beloranib may work in isolation without the need to combine different compounds, he adds. “If you can target a nodal point that’s much more upstream of simple circuitry-controlled hunger in the hypothalamus, you have the potential to reset the entire system.”

Meanwhile, another Boston-based firm, Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, is conducting clinical trials on obese patients with rare genetic disorders that compromise the melanocortin-4 (MC4) pathway, known to be involved in body weight regulation. Rhythm’s setmelanotide (RM-493) is a first-in-class drug that activates the MC4 pathway. And several companies, including the Japanese pharma firm Shionogi, are developing compounds that block the receptor of a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y, which plays a role in appetite stimulation and meal initiation.

Other new antiobesity targets include cyclic nucleotides, second messengers in signaling cascades such as the 3′-5′-cyclic guanosine monophosphate pathway, which conveys feelings of satiety and ramps up thermogenesis; amylin, a peptide hormone that slows gastric emptying and promotes satiety; ghrelin, a gut hormone that stimulates food intake; and a handful of pathways that affect nutrient absorption and metabolism. As more of obesity’s molecular complexities are sorted out, even more new drug targets will present themselves.

“I think we are on the verge of understanding obesity and the mechanisms underlying obesity,” says Novo Nordisk’s Thomsen. “That means that there is going to be a lot of good news for obesity going forward.”

 

WEIGHT-LOSS DRUG APPROVAL

© ISTOCK.COM/QUISP65Getting a weight-loss treatment approved by the FDA is a little different than the regulatory path taken by other drugs. To earn approval, companies must demonstrate that their drugs afford at least a 5 percent reduction in body weight over a year. And after a therapy reaches the market, companies have to conduct more research, specifically, into the drugs’ safety. Contrave, for example, which was approved in September 2014, is currently subject to rigorous post-marketing surveillance concerning evidence that the drug may lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Other recently approved antiobesity drugs are under similar surveillance regimens.

The FDA also requires companies to test some approved weight-loss drugs specifically for their cardiovascular side effects. “Serious safety concerns have arisen with several obesity drugs in the past, which have informed our approach to drug development,” FDA spokesperson Eric Pahon wrote in an email to The Scientist. “All drugs approved for chronic weight management since 2012 have either had a cardiovascular outcome trial (CVOT) underway at the time of approval or have been required to initiate a CVOT as a post-marketing requirement.”

This additional testing, however, may scare off some drug developers from entering the antiobesity arena, Vivus spokesperson Dana Shinbaum wrote in an email to The Scientist. “The hurdles remain high . . . [and] may discourage innovation in this area.”

But even with the significant regulatory hurdles, it’s tough to deny the potential that exists in the antiobesity drug market. “We view obesity as one of the few remaining untapped therapeutic areas within primary care,” says Preston Klassen of Orexigen Therapeutics. “We think it’s tremendously important from a medical perspective, and we think it’s been well documented that even small reductions in body weight have meaningful and sustained impact on improved health.”

 

 

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Recent Insights in Drug Development

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

A Better Class of Cancer Drugs
http://www.technologynetworks.com/medchem/news.aspx?ID=183124
An SDSU chemist has developed a technique to identify potential cancer drugs that are less likely to produce side effects.
A class of therapeutic drugs known as protein kinase inhibitors has in the past decade become a powerful weapon in the fight against various life-threatening diseases, including certain types of leukemia, lung cancer, kidney cancer and squamous cell cancer of the head and neck. One problem with these drugs, however, is that they often inhibit many different targets, which can lead to side effects and complications in therapeutic use. A recent study by San Diego State University chemist Jeffrey Gustafson has identified a new technique for improving the selectivity of these drugs and possibly decreasing unwanted side effects in the future.

Why are protein kinase–inhibiting drugs so unpredictable? The answer lies in their molecular makeup.

Many of these drug candidates possess examples of a phenomenon known as atropisomerism. To understand what this is, it’s helpful to understand a bit of the chemistry at work. Molecules can come in different forms that have exactly the same chemical formula and even the same bonds, just arranged differently. The different arrangements are mirror images of each other, with a left-handed and a right-handed arrangement. The molecules’ “handedness” is referred to as chirality. Atropisomerism is a form of chirality that arises when the spatial arrangement has a rotatable bond called an axis of chirality. Picture two non-identical paper snowflakes tethered together by a rigid stick.

Some axes of chirality are rigid, while others can freely spin about their axis. In the latter case, this means that at any given time, you could have one of two different “versions” of the same molecule.

Watershed treatment

As the name suggests, kinase inhibitors interrupt the function of kinases—a particular type of enzyme—and effectively shut down the activity of proteins that contribute to cancer.

“Kinase inhibition has been a watershed for cancer treatment,” said Gustafson, who attended SDSU as an undergraduate before earning his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Yale University, then working there as a National Institutes of Health poctdoctoral fellow in chemical biology.

“However, it’s really hard to inhibit a single kinase,” he explained. “The majority of compounds identified inhibit not just one but many kinases, and that can lead to a number of side effects.”

Many kinase inhibitors possess axes of chirality that are freely spinning. The problem is that because you can’t control which “arrangement” of the molecule is present at a given time, the unwanted version could have unintended consequences.

In practice, this means that when medicinal chemists discover a promising kinase inhibitor that exists as two interchanging arrangements, they actually have two different inhibitors. Each one can have quite different biological effects, and it’s difficult to know which version of the molecule actually targets the right protein.

“I think this has really been under-recognized in the field,” Gustafson said. “The field needs strategies to weed out these side effects.”

Applying the brakes

So that’s what Gustafson did in a recently published study. He and his colleagues synthesized atropisomeric compounds known to target a particular family of kinases known as tyrosine kinases. To some of these compounds, the researchers added a single chlorine atom which effectively served as a brake to keep the atropisomer from spinning around, locking the molecule into either a right-handed or a left-handed version.

When the researchers screened both the modified and unmodified versions against their target kinases, they found major differences in which kinases the different versions inhibited. The unmodified compound was like a shotgun blast, inhibiting a broad range of kinases. But the locked-in right-handed and left-handed versions were choosier.

“Just by locking them into one or another atropisomeric configuration, not only were they more selective, but they  inhibited different kinases,” Gustafson explained.

If drug makers incorporated this technique into their early drug discovery process, he said, it would help identify which version of an atropisomeric compound actually targets the kinase they want to target, cutting the potential for side effects and helping to usher drugs past strict regulatory hurdles and into the hands of waiting patients.

 

Inroads Against Leukaemia
http://www.technologynetworks.com/medchem/news.aspx?ID=183594

 

Potential for halting disease in molecule isolated from sea sponges.
A molecule isolated from sea sponges and later synthesized in the lab can halt the growth of cancerous cells and could open the door to a new treatment for leukemia, according to a team of Harvard researchers and other collaborators led by Matthew Shair, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology.

“Once we learned this molecule, named cortistatin A, was very potent and selective in terms of inhibiting the growth of AML [acute myeloid leukemia] cells, we tested it in mouse models of AML and found that it was as efficacious as any other molecule we had seen, without having deleterious effects,” Shair said. “This suggests we have identified a promising new therapeutic approach.”

It’s one that could be available to test in patients relatively soon.

“We synthesized cortistatin A and we are working to develop novel therapeutics based on it by optimizing its drug-like properties,” Shair said. “Given the dearth of effective treatments for AML, we recognize the importance of advancing it toward clinical trials as quickly as possible.”

The drug-development process generally takes years, but Shair’s lab is very close to having what is known as a development candidate that could be taken into late-stage preclinical development and then clinical trials. An industrial partner will be needed to push the technology along that path and toward regulatory approval. Harvard’s Office of Technology Development (OTD) is engaged in advanced discussions to that end.

The molecule works, Shair explained, by inhibiting a pair of nearly identical kinases, called CDK8 and CDK19, that his research indicates play a key role in the growth of AML cells.

The kinases operate as part of a poorly understood, massive structure in the nucleus of cells called the mediator complex, which acts as a bridge between transcription factors and transcriptional machinery. Inhibiting these two specific kinases, Shair and colleagues found, doesn’t shut down all transcription, but instead has gene-specific effects.

“We treated AML cells with cortistatin A and measured the effects on gene expression,” Shair said. “One of the first surprises was that it’s affecting a very small number of genes — we thought it might be in the thousands, but it’s in the low hundreds.”

When Shair, Henry Pelish, a senior research associate in chemistry and chemical biology, and then-Ph.D. student Brian Liau looked closely at which genes were affected, they discovered many were associated with DNA regulatory elements known as “super-enhancers.”

“Humans have about 220 different types of cells in their body — they all have the same genome, but they have to form things like skin and bone and liver cells,” Shair explained. “In all cells, there are a relatively small number of DNA regulatory elements, called super-enhancers. These super-enhancers drive high expression of genes, many of which dictate cellular identity. A big part of cancer is a situation where that identity is lost, and the cells become poorly differentiated and are stuck in an almost stem-cell-like state.”

While a few potential cancer treatments have attacked the disease by down-regulating such cellular identity genes, Shair and colleagues were surprised to find that their molecule actually turned up the activity of those genes in AML cells.

“Before this paper, the thought was that cancer is ramping these genes up, keeping the cells in a hyper-proliferative state and affecting cell growth in that way,” Shair said. “But our molecule is saying that’s one part of the story, and in addition cancer is keeping the dosage of these genes in a narrow range. If it’s too low, the cells die. If they are pushed too high, as with cortistatin A, they return to their normal identity and stop growing.”

Shair’s lab became interested in the molecule several years ago, shortly after it was first isolated and described by other researchers. Early studies suggested it appeared to inhibit just a handful of kinases.

“We tested approximately 400 kinases, and found that it inhibits only CDK8 and CDK19 in cells, which makes it among the most selective kinase inhibitors identified to date,” Shair said. “Having compounds that precisely hit a specific target, like cortistatin A, can help reduce side effects and increase efficacy. In a way, it shatters a dogma because we thought it wasn’t possible for a molecule to be this selective and bind in a site common to all 500 human kinases, but this molecule does it, and it does it because of its 3-D structure. What’s interesting is that most kinase-inhibitor drugs do not have this type of 3-D structure. Nature is telling us that one way to achieve this level of specificity is to make molecules more like cortistatin A.”

Shair’s team successfully synthesized the molecule, which helped them study how it worked and why it affected the growth of a very specific type of cell. Later on, with funding and drug-development expertise provided by Harvard’s Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator, Shair’s lab created a range of new molecules that may be better suited to clinical application.

“It’s a complex process to make [cortistatin A] — 32 chemical steps,” said Shair. “But we have been able to find less complex structures that act just like the natural compound, with better drug-like properties, and they can be made on a large scale and in about half as many steps.”

“Over the course of several years, we have watched this research progress from an intriguing discovery to a highly promising development candidate,” said Isaac Kohlberg, senior associate provost and chief technology development officer. “The latest results are a real testament to Matt’s ingenuity and dedication to addressing a very tough disease.”

While there is still much work to be done — in particular, to better understand how CDK8 and CDK19 regulate gene expression — the early results have been dramatic.

“This is the kind of thing you do science for,” Shair said, “the idea that once every 10 or 20 years you might find something this interesting, that sheds new light on important, difficult problems. This gives us an opportunity to generate a new understanding of cancer and also develop new therapeutics to treat it. We’re very excited and curious to see where it goes.”

 

Seeking A Better Way To Design Drugs

http://www.technologynetworks.com/medchem/news.aspx?ID=183338

NIH funds research at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to advance a new chemical process for more effective drug development and manufacturing.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $346,000 to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for a three-year research project to advance development of a chemical process that could significantly improve the ability to design new pharmaceuticals and streamline the manufacturing of existing drugs.

Led by Marion Emmert, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at WPI, the research program involves early-stage technology developed in her lab that may yield a more efficient and predictable method of bonding a vital class of structures called aromatic and benzylic amines to a drug molecule.

“Seven of the top 10 pharmaceuticals in use today have these substructures, because they are so effective at creating a biologically active compound,” Emmert said. “The current processes used to add these groups are indirect and not very efficient. So we asked ourselves, can we do it better? ”

For a drug to do its job in the body it must interact with a specific biological target and produce a therapeutic effect. First, the drug needs to physically attach or “bind” to the target, which is a specific part of a cell, protein, or molecule. As a result, designing a new drug is like crafting a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle piece that fits precisely into an existing biological structure in the body. Aromatic and benzylic amines add properties to the drug that help it bind more efficiently to these biological structures.

Getting those aromatic and benzylic amines into the structure of a drug, however, is difficult. Traditionally, this requires a specialized chemical bond as precursor in a specific location of the drug’s molecular structure. “The current approach to making those bonds is indirect, requires several lengthy steps, and the outcome is not always precise or efficient,” Emmert said. “Only a small percentage of the bonds can be made in the proper place, and sometimes none at all.”

Emmert’s new approach uses novel reagents and metal catalysts to create a process that can attach amines directly, in the right place, every time. In early proof-of-principle experiments, Emmert has succeeded in making several amine bonds directly in one or two days, whereas the standard process can take two weeks with less accuracy. Over the next three years, with support from the NIH, Emmert’s team will continue to study the new catalytic processes in detail. They will also use the new process to synthesize Asacol, a common drug now in use for ulcerative colitis, and expect to significantly shorten its production.

“Some of our early data are promising, but we have a lot more work to do to understand the basic mechanisms involved in the new processes,” Emmert said. “We also have to adapt the process to molecules that could be used directly for drug development.”

 

Antiparasite Drug Developers Win Nobel

William Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of their contributions to antiparasitic drug development.

By Karen Zusi and Tracy Vence | October 5, 2015

http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/44159/title/Antiparasite-Drug-Developers-Win-Nobel/

William Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu have made significant contributions to treatments for river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria; today (October 5) these three scientists were jointly awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of these advancements.

Tu is being recognized for her discoveries leading to the development of the antimalarial drug artemisinin. Campbell and Omura jointly received the other half of this year’s prize for their separate work leading to the discovery of the drug avermectin, which has been used to develop therapies for river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

“These discoveries are now more than 30 years old,” David Conway, a professor of biology of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told The Scientist. “[These drugs] are still, today, the best two groups of compounds for antimalarial use, on the one hand, and antinematode worms and filariasis on the other.”

Omura, a Japanese microbiologist at Kitasato University in Tokyo, isolated strains of the soil bacteriaStreptomyces in a search for those with promising antibacterial activity. He eventually narrowed thousands of cultures down to 50.

Now research fellow emeritus at Drew University in New Jersey, Campbell spent much of his career at Merck, where he discovered effective antiparasitic properties in one of Omura’s cultures and purified the relevant compounds into avermectin (later refined into ivermectin).

“Bill Campbell is a wonderful scientist, a wonderful man, and a great mentor for undergraduate students,” said his colleague Roger Knowles, a professor of biology at Drew University. “His ability to speak about disease mechanisms and novel strategies to help [fight] these diseases. . . . that’s been a great boon to students.”

Tu began searching for a novel malaria treatment in the 1960s in traditional herbal medicine. She served as the head of Project 523, a program at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing aimed at finding new drugs for malaria. Tu successfully extracted a promising compound from the plant Artemisia annu that was highly effective against the malaria parasite. In recognition of her malaria research, Tu won a Lasker Award in 2011.

 

Optogenetics Advances in Monkeys

Researchers have selectively activated a specific neural pathway to manipulate a primate’s behavior.

By Kerry Grens | October 5, 2015

http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/44156/title/Optogenetics-Advances-in-Monkeys/

Scientists have used optogenetics to target a specific neural pathway in the brain of a macaque monkey and alter the animal’s behavior. As the authors reported in Nature Communications last month, such a feat had been accomplished only in rodents before.

Optogenetics relies on the insertion of a gene for a light-sensitive ion channel. When present in neurons, the channel can turn on or off the activity of a neuron, depending on the flavor of the channel. Previous attempts to use optogenetics in nonhuman primates affected brain regions more generally, rather than particular neural circuits. In this case, Masayuki Matsumoto of Kyoto University and colleagues delivered the channel’s gene specifically to one area of the monkey’s brain called the frontal eye field.

They found that not only did the neurons in this region respond to light shone on the brain, but the monkey’s behavior changed as well. The stimulation caused saccades—quick eye movements. “Our findings clearly demonstrate the causal relationship between the signals transmitted through the FEF-SC [frontal eye field-superior colliculus] pathway and saccadic eye movements,” Matsumoto and his colleagues wrote in their report.

“Over the decades, electrical microstimulation and pharmacological manipulation techniques have been used as tools to modulate neuronal activity in various brain regions, permitting investigators to establish causal links between neuronal activity and behaviours,” they continued. “These methodologies, however, cannot selectively target the activity (that is, the transmitted signal) of a particular pathway connecting two regions. The advent of pathway-selective optogenetic approaches has enabled investigators to overcome this issue in rodents and now, as we have demonstrated, in nonhuman primates.”

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The Vibrant Philly Biotech Scene: Focus on Vaccines and Philimmune, LLC

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D

I am intending to do a series of posts highlighting interviews with Philadelphia area biotech startup CEO’s and show how a vibrant biotech startup scene is evolving in the city as well as the Delaware Valley area. Philadelphia has been home to some of the nation’s oldest biotechs including Cephalon, Centocor, hundreds of spinouts from a multitude of universities as well as home of the first cloned animal (a frog), the first transgenic mouse, and Nobel laureates in the field of molecular biology and genetics. Although some recent disheartening news about the fall in rankings of Philadelphia as a biotech hub and recent remarks by CEO’s of former area companies has dominated the news, biotech incubators like the University City Science Center and Bucks County Biotechnology Center as well as a reinvigorated investment community (like PCCI and MABA) are bringing Philadelphia back. And although much work is needed to bring the Philadelphia area back to its former glory days (including political will at the state level) there are many bright spots such as the innovative young companies as outlined in these posts.

First up I got to talk with Florian Schodel, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of Philimmune, which provides expertise in medicine, clinical and regulatory development and analytical sciences to support successful development and registration of vaccines and biologics. Before founding Philimmune, Dr. Schodel was VP in Vaccines Clinical Research of Merck Research Laboratories and has led EU vaccine clinical trials and the clinical development of rotavirus, measles, mumps, hepatitis B, and rubella vaccines. In addition Dr. Schodel and Philimmune consult on several vaccine development efforts at numerous biotech companies including:

 

\His specialties and services include: vaccines and biologics development strategy, clinical development, clinical operations, strategic planning and alliances, international collaborations, analytical and assay development, project and portfolio integration and leadership.

Successful development of vaccines and biologics poses some unique challenges: including sterile manufacturing and substantial early capital investment before initiated clinical trials, assay development for clinical trial support, and unique trail design. Therefore vaccines and biologics development is a highly collaborative process between several disciplines.

The Philadelphia area has a rich history in vaccine development including the discovery and development of the rubella, cytomegaolovirus, a rabies, and the oral polio vaccine at the Wistar Institute. Dr. Schodel answered a few questions on the state of vaccine development and current efforts in the Philadelphia area, including recent efforts by companies such as GSK’s efforts and Inovio’s efforts developing an Ebola vaccine.

In his opinion, Dr. Schodel believes our biggest hurdle in vaccine development in a societal issue, not a preclinic development issue. Great advances have been made to speed the discovery process and enhance quality assurance of manufacture capabilities like

however there has not been a great history or support for developing vaccines for the plethora of infectious diseases seen in the developing world. As Dr. Schodel pointed out, there are relatively few players in the field, and tough to get those few players excited for investing in new targets.

 

However, some companies are rapidly expanding their vaccine portfolios including

 

 

Why haven’t 3rd world countries developed their own vaccine programs?

 

  1. Hard to find partners willing to invest and support development
  2. Developing nations don’t have the money or infrastructure to support health programs
  3. Doctors in these countries need to be educated on how to conduct trials, conduct vaccine programs like Gates Foundation does. For more information see Nature paper on obstacles to vaccine introduction in third world countries.

 

Lastly, Dr. Schodel touched on a growing area, cancer vaccine development. Recent advances in bladder cancer vaccine, cervical, and promising results in an early phase metastatic breast cancer vaccine trial and phase I oral cancer vaccine trial have reinvigorated this field of cancer vaccinology.

 

Historic Timeline of Vaccine Development

vaccine development timeline

Graphic from http://en.pedaily.cn/Item.aspx?id=194125

 

Other posts on this site related to Biotech Startups in Philadelphia and some additional posts on infectious disease include:

 

RAbD Biotech Presents at 1st Pitch Life Sciences-Philadelphia

LytPhage Presents at 1st Pitch Life Sciences-Philadelphia

Hastke Inc. Presents at 1st Pitch Life Sciences-Philadelphia

1st Pitch Life Science- Philadelphia- What VCs Really Think of your Pitch

The History of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology in the late 19th and 20th Century

 

 

 

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A Great University engaged in Drug Discovery: University of Pittsburgh

 

Reporter and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

The US-based pharmaceutical companies have been consolidating and now are moving offshore to reduce taxes and other costs.  A part of the problem has been the large cost of clinical trials, the failure to detect toxicities in the early phases, and late phase failure or drug resistance conferring short term success.  This has been at a rate above 60%.  The result is that Big Pharma is looking to recycling old drugs for repurposing. Whatever success can be obtained from this, there is a larger problem in not having a comprehensive biological understanding of the problems imposed by the complexity on a deeper understanding.  I present here a major university, very well recognized in genetics, proteomics, and experimental pathology engaged in the drug development effort with reasonable promise of successes.

 

Perspective On: A Drug Discovery Lab

As lab manager at the University of Pittsburgh Drug Discovery Institute (UPDDI), Celeste Reese and her team use high-content imaging strategies and work with many other labs both within the university and outside the university on a wide range of projects.

By Rachel Muenz | July 03, 2014

 

We try to use new technologies and approaches and quantitative systems pharmacology (QSP) to complement the traditional drug discovery strategies

We try to use new technologies and approaches and quantitative systems pharmacology (QSP) to complement the traditional drug discovery strategies

 

 

Finding Clinically Relevant Solutions

Hard work, teamwork, and a whole lot of multitasking help this lab overcome a tough economic environment

“We try to use new technologies and approaches and quantitative systems pharmacology (QSP) to complement the traditional drug discovery strategies that are used by the large pharmacy companies,” she explains, adding that, on average, they have seven to ten active projects going on at any given time. “Right now we have a metastatic breast cancer program, a head and neck cancer project, and a Huntington’s disease project. We do some zebra fish modeling, some development of novel HIV diagnostics, liver modeling, and a variety of other things.”

Those projects take place in the institute’s 11,000 square feet of space, which covers two floors of the building the institute occupies and includes a large open lab on the top floor and an imaging lab, automation lab, and tissue culture facility on the floor below. Working in that space are 34 staff, including seven faculty, four graduate students, and five undergraduates, with the rest made up of technical specialists, administrative staff, and Reese herself. As in many other labs, staff members have a wide range of education levels—from high school for the undergrads all the way up to extensive post-doctoral experience for the faculty, Reese says, adding that staff receive quite a bit of training when they begin.

“The university has a lot of training modules that we send people to for such things as chemical hygiene, safety, and blood-borne pathogens, even things like safe shipping,” she says. “Then there are modules like conflict of interest training and research integrity training, which are also provided by the university. In-house, we train everyone on our equipment and on the procedures and protocols that we use within our institute.”

Training the grads and undergrads on those lab procedures is a big part of Reese’s role as lab manager, a task that she considers one of the highlights of the position.

“I really like working with the graduate students who come into the lab,” Reese says. “They always have a fresh perspective and they’re always challenging established protocols. They’re fresh and enthusiastic.”

The Catalyst Express robot is used to load plates onto a high-content imaging platform.It was a similar enthusiasm for science that led Reese to pursue the field in university, which led to a job in a pharmacology lab after graduation, getting her interested in the drug discovery field and—after 14 years staying home to raise her children—eventually brought her to the UPDDI, where she has worked for the past eight years.

“I’ve always loved science in general but then after college I got the job in the pharmacology lab and I just really liked experimental design and problem solving and implementation—which eventually led into the lab management position,” says Reese, who has now been lab manager at the UPDDI for four years.

Because of her enjoyment of experimenting, along with her other management duties of looking after supplies and equipment, Reese also likes to keep a hand in what’s going on in the lab.

“I keep an active role in at least one of the research projects that we have going on,” she explains. “I find that that’s very helpful in the lab management area as well, because I see key things while I’m doing experiments that I normally wouldn’t see on a walkthrough.”

Blocking out the day

Liquid nitrogen cell bank.

Liquid nitrogen cell bank.

 

 

Liquid nitrogen cell bank.For Reese, scheduling chunks of time for certain tasks is critical in ensuring she meets her goals for the day.

“Time management’s key when you’re trying to cover as many roles as it takes to do this job,” she says. “I try to keep the mornings for the lab management tasks and then the afternoons are usually taken up with meetings, experimental design and implementation, or data analysis.”

That means Reese’s mornings typically involve coming in, checking on what’s happening in the lab, looking after the ordering of supplies for the week, and attending to any equipment problems and emails. Along with meetings, her afternoons are usually taken up with running or designing experiments or analyzing data. Of course, the rest of the staff have a variety of different roles.

A few programs and regular inventory checks help keep everything organized.

“One of the big tools we have is a purchasing program that we have developed in-house—an access program that we use and a similar one for equipment reservations and things like that,” Reese says. “We do a weekly inventory. We have two stockroom areas and we have two student workers who go out and stock all the individual work areas for people every day. And then we also have written protocols and established procedures for things like routine equipment maintenance and buffer preparations and such.”

She adds that the main challenge her lab faces is the same one that many other labs face—doing more with less in the current tough economic climate. For her lab, multitasking and teamwork are a big part of solving that issue.

“We just have really talented people here,” Reese says of her staff. “Everybody takes on a variety of roles. Everybody pitches in with things like routine equipment maintenance and … rather than having one person in each job, everybody covers a variety of tasks.” Because of that strong teamwork, Reese finds she doesn’t need to do much to motivate members of the lab.

“I don’t manage people—I just try to lead by example and try to take care of any issues that come up promptly rather than put things off,” she explains. “Everybody’s pretty self-motivated and hardworking here.”

An automated compound storage system is used to store the institute’s screening libraries.

An automated compound storage system is used to store the institute’s screening libraries.

 

six separate tissue culture facilities

six separate tissue culture facilities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An automated compound storage system is used to store the institute’s screening libraries. The UPDDI has six separate tissue culture facilities equipped with biosafety cabinets, incubators, and microscopes.

The tech side

Along with the aforementioned high-content imaging, Reese’s lab also uses automated liquid handling platforms, biosensors, microfluidics, and immunofluorescence and fluorescence microscopy, and they are starting to implement 3D cell culture strategies to tackle their many projects.

“These fluorescent proteins react to the physiological changes in the cell in real time,” Reese says of the lab’s work with biosensors. “And [with] microfluidics you actually have a moving system. The system is more clinically relevant— it’s a better model for the in vivo systems.”

By “clinically relevant” Reese says she basically means the center is trying to more closely model what is actually going on in the human body, rather than relying on traditional 2D cell culture models or high throughput methods. That focus on clinically relevant methods is a result of big changes in the pharmaceutical industry in recent years.

Top 5 Instruments in the Lab

  • GE InCell6000 Imaging System
  • Agilent (Velocity 11) Bravo Liquid Handling Platform
  • Thermo Scientific Multidrop Combi Dispenser
  • PerkinElmer EnVision 2103 Multilabel Plate Reader
  • Brooks (Matrical) Ministore Automated Compound  Management System

“In the drug discovery field in general, big pharma has been using the mass-scale high throughput screening for a long time and of course now we’re coming to the patent cliff for a lot of the pharmaceutical companies, when a lot of their moneymakers are going off patent,” Reese explains. “So here, we’re trying to move away from that high throughput screening toward a more high-content [screening] where we’re looking at more clinically relevant methods and QSP approaches for drug discovery.”

And the most interesting work the lab is doing right now?

“I would say the coolest thing we have going on is a liver microphysiology project,” Reese says. “We’re making a liver biomimetic, which will be integrated with other organ biomimetics to create a human-on-a-chip for use as a model for drug toxicity and other kinds of organ analysis.”

Categories: Research-Specific Labs

Tags: Drug Discovery Labs

 

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