Proteomics fuels pharmaceuticals or where the rubber meets the road

Toronto 08 November 2001Experts representing the fields of biotechnology, financial services, information technology, science and medicine gathered to explore the early successes and ongoing challenges in proteomics-based drug discovery. A blue ribbon panel moderated by Dr. Eric Lander, Director Whitehead Centre Genomics Research, explored immediate and long-term effects proteomics had. The panel hosted by MDS Proteomics, a proteomics-based drug discovery company, was held in conjunction with the opening of its new global headquarters and fully operational large-scale proteomics research facility in Toronto.

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Panelists participating in the event included: Carol Kovac, general manager, IBM Life Sciences; Frank Gleeson, president and chief executive officer, MDS Proteomics; Jessica Chutter, managing director and co-head of biotechnology, Morgan Stanley; Anthony Pawson, co-director Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital and professor, University of Toronto; and Joseph Avruch, professor of medicine, Harvard University. The panel discussion was attended by an audience of private investors, pharmaceutical companies, and researchers.

"Proteomics is where the rubber meets the road: it is much harder to detect proteins and more important to detect proteins than the mapping of the genome", stated Dr. Eric Lander. "What is going to be the driving force is understanding how proteins relate to cell biological pathways, and by no means can we do that without massive new investment in IT and data, and without partnerships involving both the public and private sector."

Following is a summary of highlights from the panel discussion. Proteomics offers the pharmaceutical industry the research and development resources necessary for its survival. "Last year, $30 billion was spent on R&D by the pharmaceutical companies, only 30 drugs were approved", noted Jessica Chutter. "Pharmaceutical companies are dependent on proteomics and like technologies to overhaul their entire drug development process, or they will not survive."

IBM representative Kovac added: "The pharmaceutical industry and the drug development process are founded on the ability to patent intellectual property. In many ways, this is because of the enormous investment it takes to get a new drug or treatment to the market place and the enormous risk associated with that investment. Intellectual property protection in this industry is absolutely paramount."

Diagnostics have experienced immediate improvements from advancements in proteomics. The ability to discriminate phenotypes of important, complex diseases such as cancer and diabetes will encourage diagnostic abilities and eventually, disease therapeutics.

Biology, and more specifically genomics and proteomics, are driving tremendous advancements in information technology. The success of proteomics demands the most powerful supercomputers, and research environments such as the newly opened MDS Proteomics facility are housing one of the most powerful computers in the world.

Proteomics will streamline the drug development process by helping to eliminate irrelevant drug targets and recognising highly effective targets. Understanding the function of proteins combined with the predictive models used in proteomics will ultimately reduce the dollars spent on R&D and clinical trials.

Proteomics is likely to speed drug development and improve patient treatment, however the timing of proteomics' promise is unclear due to its complexity. The analysis of proteins in the cell is highly intricate and complex, more than any other endeavour taken on by science to date, ultimately resulting in personalised treatment of individuals.

Jessica Chutter recognised three components necessary to succeed in the emerging proteomics field including:

  1. broad based technology platforms;
  2. focus on drug discovery; and
  3. validating partnerships.

Companies that possess such components such as MDS Proteomics and Millenium Pharmaceuticals will lead the proteomics field. "The rapidly expanding and promising market of proteomics is demanding the most advanced IT in the world and is driving supercomputing to breakthrough heights", stated Carol Kovac. "We project that in 2004, the IT market in life sciences including pharmaceutical discovery, proteomics and diagnostics will be more than $40 billion."

The panel discussion followed the official opening of MDS Proteomics' global headquarters and research facility in Toronto, Canada. This new research laboratory complements the established facilities in Odense, Denmark; Boston; and Charlottesville, providing greater analytical capability in determining the function of hundreds of genes and thousands of proteins monthly. MDS Proteomics utilises this information to rapidly select and functionally validate targets in a high-throughput fashion, and then utilises computer-aided tools to design novel small molecule drugs. The facility has the capacity for continued expansion and is routinely operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Leslie Versweyveld

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