Bio Bank Needed to Optimize Genetic Research

With genomic data now abundant, major pharmaceutical and research companies at the BIO conference discuss how to sort through the complexities.

SAN FRANCISCO—Genomics research has unearthed a wide range of approaches that drug companies can use to treat diseases. Now, the big question for these companies is how to choose the right genes to go after in drug development.

Finding ways to optimize this discovery process was the subject of a Tuesday panel at BIO, a biotechnology industry conference here.

Since the advent more than a decade ago of high-throughput screening, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have spent vast sums to obtain information on the genetic variations associated with the emergence of particular diseases.

And in that task, they have been largely successful, due largely to the basic information available from the complete mapping of the human genome and the Hap Map project by the public-private SNP Consortium, which identifies single nucleotide polymorphisms, DNA sequence variations among individuals.

But given this wealth of targets, many of them novel, the challenge in recent years has shifted to validating which targets actually have the potential to be effectively treated.

Advances in IT have flooded scientists with possible research targets. Now, the increasing linkages between genetics, clinical pathway and disease expression will help them extract the most valuable ones.

This transition was focus of the panel. Partaking in the discussion were the research vice presidents of two major pharmaceutical companies, two leading genomics research tool companies, and the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Only about one in 10 drug molecules that start out in the research pipeline actually make it to market, according to data presented by Ismail Kola, vice president of basic research at Merck & Co. And that rate varies greatly by indication.

According to Kola, central nervous system and oncology molecules succeed only 7 percent and 6 percent of the time, respectively. But cardiovascular and infectious disease molecules make it to market 19 percent and 16 percent of the time, respectively.

Next Page: Genomics research tools alone are ineffective in picking which targets to pursue.