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Drug Discovery Technology 2001: An Increasingly Important Venue.

Drug discovery is a long, multi-step and extremely complex process. Technological advances have made drug discovery both faster and smarter, and new technologies are posed to continue to advance all stages of the drug discovery process. As the technologies for drug discovery continue to appear and evolve, the issues surrounding drug discovery also continue to multiply. At IBC's Sixth Annual World Congress Drug Discovery Technology 2001 (DDT 2001), held August 12-17 in Boston, Massachusetts, pharmaceutical and biotech researchers, investors and suppliers from around the world gathered to discuss the present and future of drug discovery.

Genomics, proteomics, combinatorial chemistry and evolving technologies have fundamentally changed drug discovery over the last 20 years. The number, speed and nature of these changes have created new expectations, complications and paradigms. How pharmaceutical and biotech industries as well as instrument and aftermarket vendors respond to these changes will impact all stages of R&D, from target identification to clinical testing. The conference was an opportunity to examine these changes and responses and address the current debates in the field. It was also an opportunity to survey the current state of drug discovery technology and its future

Despite a faltering economy, the drug discovery field remains a growing, and in some sectors flourishing, business. Attendance at DDT 2001 topped 4,000, with over 300 exhibitors. The exhibition floor was crowded and the rooms were at capacity for many of the sessions. In particular, the pre-conference summit, "Creative Partnering and Deal-Making in Drug Discovery" proved very popular reflecting the ongoing investments and collaborations surrounding drug discovery. Indeed, many of the pre-conference summits were among the most interesting symposia with topics such as new technologies, informatics and mass spectrometry. Main conference sessions ranged from established topics, such as screening and assay development and lead optimization, to topics that have become more of a focus lately, such as early ADME and toxicology, chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, and infrastructure for the drug discovery factory.

Setting the stage for the conference was the keynote address by Mark Levin, chairman and CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals. His talk focused on the optimization of costs throughout the drug discovery process and on the future of drug development. The Boston Consulting Group's recent report "The Revolution in R&D-The Impact of Genomics" estimates current development cost for a new drug at $880 million, but that genomic technologies, properly utilized, can save up to $300 million in costs and shave two years off the development process. According to the report, drug discovery failures account for approximately 75% of total development costs, and the reduction of one in ten drug targets from discovery research can reduce new drug costs by $200 million on average.

Productivity, integration, and the pre-clinical and clinical stages were among the subjects of three panel discussions featuring pharmaceutical and biotech executives, researchers, and the investment community. The panels pointed out that the most immediate returns on the wave of new genomic and proteomic technologies will likely be in the areas of diagnostics antibodies. Panelists agreed that productivity gains on the front-end are evident through improved lead optimization and parallel synthesis, while pharmacogenomics, toxicogenomics and in silico approaches will be key in overcoming preclinical and clinical stage bottlenecks. As George Milne, senior vice president at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, put it, "all of this very powerful clinical chemistry and proteomic and genomic technology is going to come right smack up against what is still a fairly limited set of clinical diagnostics." However, the application of genomic and proteomic approaches throughout the development process is still evolving. "[W]hat is knowledge driven from the front end today isn't going to hit clinical trials until 4, 5, 6, 7 years from now" stated Klaus Lindpaintner, Roche Genetics' vice president and director. Several panelists stressed the gains in productivity already achieved through scale, speed and up front investment. Or, as Dr. Lindpainter commented, "[E]ven if we don't decrease the costs of making medicines, if we can make better medicines for the same cost, that's well worth it."

Panelists agreed that the integration of data with differing technologies and new approaches is underway, often at ,companies that specialize in several stages of drug discovery, and increasingly through public-private partnerships. Yet the integration of chemical and biological approaches is only beginning. The model for a comprehensive approach to proteomics is still developing. As Josh LaBaer, director of Harvard's Institute for Proteomics, commented, "there are so many different ways to study proteins ... you can look at their three-dimensional structure, you can look at what they interact with, you can look at what their biochemical activity is, you can look at where they're localized in cells, you can look at what function they provide if you introduce them into humans." Also, quality control was a subject of discussion, with some panelists highlighting the relative lack of attention paid to this area. "Quality control is not associated with biotechnology," said Donny Strosberg, CEO of Hybridgenics.
1999 Domestic US Pharmaceutical
R&D Spending by Function(*)

Synthesis &
 Extraction 10%
Bio. Screening &
 Pharmacological
 Testing 14%
Toxicology &
 Safety Testing 5%
Pharma. Dosage
 Formulation &
 Stability Testing 7%
Clinical: Phases I,
 II, and II 29%
Clinical Evaluation:
 Phase IV 12%
Process Devp. for
 Manufacturing &
 QC 8%
Regulatory: IND
 and NDA 4%
Bioavailability 2%
Other 9%

Note: Table made from pie chart.



Issues such as these were raised in many of the panels and talks, and the technologies to address these issues were the focus of the DDT 2001's exhibits and sessions. Laboratory equipment and software vendors accounted for the greatest number of exhibitors if ranked by product type. However, taken together, the informatics segment, including custom databases, data management, modeling tools, and software, constituted the biggest share of exhibitors. The exhibit was a bit disappointing in its resemblance to other exhibits at similar conferences. However, some new products were on display. Software was prevalent among the new products on exhibit, including Zymark's Clara 2001 Scheduler, Thermo LabSystems' Natuilus BioLIMS and Gene Logic's GeneExpress Suite.

Other new products focused on cell-based applications. Amersham Pharmacia Biotech previewed its next generation LEADseeker Cell Analysis System. It utilizes fluorescence confocal microscopy technology from Praelux, which AP Biotech acquired last year (see 1BO 2/29/00), and Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) cell-based screening technology licensed from BioImage (see IBO 3/31/01). Due out later this year with a price tag of over $1 million, this system will give researchers a picture of protein and drug interactions within a cell. Packard BioSciences' ImageTrak fiber optic imaging platform performs high-throughput screening and lead optimization of cell-based and other biochemical assays. Physiome Sciences' PathwayPrism platform visualizes, integrates and simulates cell signaling's molecular interactions.

Microwave technologies were also on display as CEM exhibited its DISCOVER Focused Microwave Synthesis instruments and Milestone showed its EthosSYNTH Microwave Accelerated Organic Synthesis platform. Other notable product introductions included Motorola Life Sciences' CodeLink Bioarray System for gene expression profiling, Xanthon's Expression Analysis System and Tecan's Genesis Freedom Workstation.

IBC's annual Drug Discovery Technology conference provides a valuable, albeit very commercial, forum for the latest in drug discovery products and technologies. It has also become an important forum for the discussion and debate of issues surrounding the field. For analytical instrument companies, it provides a map to end-users' needs and decision-making processes, another space to exhibit products, as well as an opportunity to interact with end-users, the press, the investment community and leading executives.

This year's conference signaled the growing attention being paid to new technologies for applications further along in the drug development cycle and to the need for new technologies and specialized instruments. IBC's Drug Discovery Technology 2002 will be held August 4-9, 2002 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
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Date:Aug 31, 2001
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