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Report: Cancer diagnostics market could hit $90 million by 2014

In our October issue, we’re continuing our special report series on trends in cancer research. This month, which is the third installment of a five-part series, discusses the challenges and rewards of developing companion diagnostics for cancer treatment.

To view the story, see “Two are better than one.” We also take a look at recent developments in the field of biomarker research in our story, “Biomarkers: How Good a Test Are They?”

Cancer treatment is one area where the era of personalized medicine is arriving, according to market research publisher Kalorama Information. In its recent report, “The Worldwide Market for Cancer Diagnostics,” Kalorama predicts a $90 million market for pharmacodiagnostics, tests that determine whether a treatment matches the individual patient, by 2014.

According to the report, the information gleaned from the Human Genome Project and pharmacogenomics research by the drug industry is making possible individualized drug therapy based on the genetic makeup of a patient. The concept has been talked about for some time, but Kalorama notes in its biennial review of the cancer testing market that with five U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved test and treatment products, including tests for Herceptin, Gleevec, Erbitux and Tarceva, and with many others in development, pharmacodiagnostics has moved beyond the concept phase.

“Personalized medicine is not occurring overnight, but it is occurring,” says Shara Rosen, lead diagnostic analyst for Kalorama Information. “More and more physicians are using these tests, and more pharma companies are getting involved and looking to in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) companies for biomarker tools.”

The report says that while personalized medicine strategies are not new—it’s been eight years that Herceptin package inserts have labeled tests for therapy-responsive patients—the increase in drug and test development points towards greater utilization of these products.

According to Kalorama, histopathology IVD companies Dako, Ventana Medical, Roche Diagnostics and Third Wave Technologies (acquired by Hologic in 2008) lead the market with FDA-cleared tests. Oncotype DX was launched in the United States in 2004, where it has since been adopted as the standard of care for treating early-stage breast cancer. Oncotype DX is recommended in the guidelines of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), and is extensively reimbursed in the United States. Physicians use Oncotype DX to predict the likelihood of chemotherapy benefit, as well as the likelihood of recurrence, for patients with early stage breast cancer, in order to make individualized treatment decisions about the addition of chemotherapy to hormonal therapy.

By 2025, one in five new drugs could be labeled with a companion test, many of which will be cancer drugs, according to Kalorama. Many of the new companion tests are being developed as diagnostic/prescription partnerships. There are scores of these cancer co-development projects underway. Companies such as Qiagen/DxS, MolecularMD and Roche/454 Life Sciences launched CE Marked test kits in 2008 and 2009. These tests are performed using blood instead of biopsied tissue.

Kalorama believes better-than-average growth levels will drive more companies to this area.

“This trend to personalized medicine is expected to create a huge market for cancer diagnostics in combination with the commercialization of the therapy,” Rosen says. “We expect pharmacogenomics, predisposition diagnostics and molecular diagnostics to show 25 to 30 percent annual growth over the next five to 10 years.”

In our November issue, we’ll examine the role of academic research in oncology. You can also view our previous reports:

Getting down to basics

Pharmacogenomics harnesses power of prediction, personalization

The big picture

Let’s work together

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October 28, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Corporate, Labwork & Science | , , , , | Leave a comment

Shopping the market

To say that the stock market has not been kind lately for companies that want to go public would be a bit like saying that a violent ex-con might not be the best choice for a babysitter. Global economic meltdowns have a tendency to create a bit of a cooling effect for investment, particularly investment in companies that don’t have some grand legacy behind them.

Oh, there have been some ups and downs and there are promising companies, and not just in pharma and biotech, that have captured public interest. But overall, the initial public offering (IPO) scene has been a bit of a horror show for companies that want an infusion of cash, but realize they probably won’t get it from Wall Street sources any more than they will from venture capitalists and angel investors these days.

Still, that didn’t stop Menlo Park, Calif.-based Pacific Biosciences from taking the plunge Oct. 27, with the developer of single-molecule, real-time sequencing technology offering 12.5 million shares at $16 per share, the mid-point of its last estimated range of $15 to $17. The underwriters for the offering have a 30-day option to acquire an additional 1,875,000 shares at the IPO price. PacBio had initially filed for its IPO in August, seeking to raise up to $200 million. It subsequently said in an amended filing that it was seeking to raise up to $230 million, which would be the total amount raised if the over-allotment option is exercised.

The day before that news, another California company, Mountain View-based sequencing services firm Complete Genomics came out with the news that not only does it plan to offer 6 million shares at a share price between $12 and $14 per share, but that it has raised its IPO target to as much as $96.6 million from its original goal of $86.3 million. Complete Genomics noted that raising its target was in part inspired by PacBio’s stated intention to raise its own.

Are they onto something? Or is this simply a case of some rose-colored glasses being passed back and forth between companies?

We shall see…

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Corporate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unwrapping the chocolate genome project

As ddn Senior Editor David Hutton’s post today shows us, genomics doesn’t all have to be deadly (or even healthily) serious…

If Willy Wonka had been a scientist, you can bet he’d have been on board with efforts to crack the chocolate genome.

As it is, chocolatiers Mars and Hershey have had their eyes on a different kind of Golden Ticket, spending millions to crack the code to unlock the secrets for better sweets.

The race pits two factions of scientists who are working hard to analyze the chocolate genome, the genetic code behind the cocoa tree, which they hope could one day make candy bars taste better, cost less, and maybe come guilt free.

Mars, the maker of such tasty confections as Milky Way, M&Ms and Snickers, dedicated $10 million to a chocolate genome project two year ago. Teaming up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and tech giant IBM, the confectioner announced earlier this month that it had cracked more than 92 percent of the genome. Their work is available for free at the Cacao Genome Database, a clearinghouse set up by Mars to aid chocolate research.

The Mars team has made available the draft genome that is a rough physical map of the cacao tree’s 10 chromosomes. Roughly 400 million “letters” of code have been arranged into chunks of about 150,000 letters each. This rough map will allow scientists to search for genes associated with particular traits, according to Juan Carlos Motamayor, chief cacao scientist for Mars. The researchers have already figured out where some genes of interest reside, but they aren’t making that information available yet, he tells U.S. News & World Report

“This will help guarantee a sustainable future for cocoa for the farmers, the consumers and Mars Inc.,” Howard-Yana Shapiro, the head of plant research at Mars, told the New York Times.

Rival Hershey, the name behind popular candies like Reese’s and Kit Kat, helped fund a similar effort by the French government and Pennsylvania State University. This faction is waiting to release its findings in an upcoming scientific paper.

The question is: Can all of this effort by scientists lead to better tasting chocolate or increase cocoa’s natural production of flavonoids, which studies show may be good for your body?

According to Mark Guiltinan, a plant molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University and leader of one of the rival efforts, that just might be the end result, but it hasn’t been the driving force behind the projects.

The point of the research, according to scientists, isn’t to create a “super candy bar,” but rather to improve and accelerate selective breeding, resulting in plants that yield more cocoa beans are more resistant to drought and disease.

Researchers also hope to improve the traditional method of breeding trees, a laborious, trial-and-error process in which researchers try to isolate the sweetest traits and replicate them. That can take as long as 15 years to complete.

Armed with a map of the cacao tree’s genetic makeup, scientists could cut that process down to two or three years. For instance, they could extract the DNA of a young tree and see whether it has the right genes for resisting diseases instead of waiting years for the tree to mature.

Guiltinan tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that chocolate, he said, originates in the poorest countries of the world, mostly from small farmers in the tropics. The cacao plants that produce the cherished cocoa beans are vulnerable to disease and drought – much of Brazil’s cacao was recently destroyed by a fungus, for example.

According to Mars, farmers suffer $700 million to $800 million worth of damage every year. In its website, Mars writes that this milestone in the project was achieved three years early and marks a significant scientific landmark that is already beginning to benefit millions of farmers, especially in West Africa. Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa production comes from West Africa.

The project isn’t a novel idea, with genetic sequencing already having been used to improve breeding for corn, soybeans, and other major crops, he said.

Still, the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is whether the chocolates will taste better. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about.

Well, yes and no.

Actually, scientists say that it’s possible that better-tasting chocolate may be a part of the end result. The flavor actually comes not from the growing, but from a process of fermentation, which happens off the plants where the beans are subjected to bacteria yeasts and molds.

That breaks down the starches and proteins in the beans, creating lots of smaller compounds that, after roasting, make chocolate taste chocolaty. Chemical analyses have shown that chocolate can contain the same compounds that impart flavor and scents to fruits, flowers, sherry, vinegar, butter, almonds, caramel, nutmeg, and other spices – and, in some cases, Swiss and blue cheese.

The chocolate genome race actually has been underway for more than a decade.

Guiltinan told the Inquirer that his chocolate genome project started in the late 1990s when he and other scientists got grant money from a consortium of chocolate companies, including Hershey. But around the same time, Mars Inc. and the Agriculture Department together decided to launch their own genome project.

Fortunately, the research teams targeted different varieties of the cacao plant. The Mars people sequenced a cutting from a variety called Forastero, which they say is the progenitor of most chocolate on the market today.

Guiltinan’s effort chose a sample of an heirloom variety called Criollo, which he says is closely related to the original chocolate that the Mayans and Aztecs consumed as a hot drink laced with peppers.

Which brings us back to our fictitious chocolatier of film and literature.

Watching from the sidelines, Willy Wonka has to be excited by the prospects of genetically-enhanced cacao trees. On second thought, he’s probably had a team of Oompa-Loompas working on this for years behind the gates of his mysterious factory.

October 27, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Announcements and Events, Corporate, Government, Labwork & Science | , , , , | 2 Comments

Alzheimer’s prevention: A call to arms

As our managing editor, Jeffrey Bouley, discussed last week, in our November issue we detail one group’s effort to develop to “launch the era of Alzheimer’s disease prevention research”—before another generation of patients is lost (see “An ounce of prevention”).

That effort, the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, is a project launched by the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, a nonprofit, collaborative research center in Phoenix.

Led by reknowned Alzheimer’s researchers Drs. Eric Reiman and Pierre Tariot, the API aims to test potential Alzheimer’s treatments and identify new biomarkers that could lead to earlier and more accurate diagnoses for Alzheimer’s patients.

Reiman and Tariot have been carrying the torch for Alzheimer’s disease prevention for many years. In the course of reporting on their work, Reiman shared with me an article they penned this year with colleague Jessica Langbaum that they consider “a call to arms.” The article, “Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative: a proposal to evaluate presymptomatic treatments as quickly as possible,” was published in the Future Medicine journal, Biomarkers in Medicine.

The article contends that the evaluation of presymptomatic Alzheimer’s treatments must become an urgent priority, identifies what is holding us back and proposes new public policies and scientific strategies to overcome these roadblocks.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an unacceptable problem. It takes a catastrophic toll on patients and family caregivers, and it is projected to have a financially overwhelming effect around the world in our children’s lifetime. In our opinion, the greatest roadblock in the scientific fight against AD is not necessarily the discovery of new treatments, but the means to evaluate them presymptomatically, when they may have their greatest impact, in a sufficiently rapid and rigorous way. It currently takes too many cognitively normal research subjects, too many years and too much money to evaluate more than a few presymptomatic AD treatments using clinical end points. Brain imaging and other biomarkers of AD progression and pathology have the potential to accelerate the evaluation of presymptomatic AD treatments. However, regulatory agencies are unlikely to provide accelerated approval for a presymptomatic AD treatment based solely on biomarker end points, without additional evidence from randomized clinical trials (RCTs) to conclude that a treatment’s biomarker effects are reasonably likely to predict a clinical benefit. In the meantime, sponsors are reluctant to conduct presymptomatic AD trials without a regulatory approval pathway. This dilemma may at first seem like an insurmountable ‘catch-22,’ leading to a sense of nihilism and a lack of urgency, but inaction is not an option.”

The article makes a compelling case for a sea change in the way scientists, researchers and pharmaceutical companies approach treating this devastating disease. To view the entire piece, please click here to download this PDF file: Reiman.

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit | , , , | 1 Comment

Unintended advantages?

Random odd thoughts are the bane of my existence sometimes. They’ll come visit, and flit in and out of my consciousness for weeks or months like some bug trying to find its way out of the house and buzzing around annoyingly until it can.

Well, this blog will at least finally provide me a place to unload some of those thoughts (as long as they are pharma-related in some way) and eliminate some of those buzzing sounds.

In this case, after posting on our website this story on a genome-wide study of human stem cells, I was reminded of a thought that has been nagging me more and more since the study of adult human stem cells has picked up in recent years and I’ve seen increasing numbers of breakthroughs related to them. And that thought was: Did the bans related to the use of embryonic human stem cells that marked much of the start of the 21st century actually have an unintended positive effect?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not laying down moral judgments about the use of embryonic stem cells in research and perhaps therapeutics one day, and I’m neither defending nor decrying policies against the use of embryonic cells (though I admit I lean heavily toward allowing their use—I understand the value of such cells, as they are much more malleable, if you will, than their adult counterparts. Also, it seems questionable to let embryonic stem cells go to waste over a philosophical argument over abortion).

And yet…

By forcing researchers to have to look harder at adult stem cells instead—regardless of whether the policy was right or wrong—have we perhaps seen more advances in manipulating and understanding adult human stem cells than we would have if access to embryonic cells had been greater?

I don’t really have an answer, but it’s a thought worth considering. Sometimes, even decisions that may be wrong can have positive results that we never expected.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Government, Labwork & Science | , | Leave a comment

So bad it’s good

One of the beautiful things about being an editor for a pharmaceutical industry publication and not an all-out healthcare publication (and I’ve worked for some of those, too) is that I’m not going to get a ding on my employee evaluation for recommending heart-clogging foods. Granted, I’m still not going to recommend them for regular consumption, but with the American Society for Cell Biology’s Cell Bio meeting coming up soon in Philadelphia (and we’ll be doing pre-show coverage of it in the November issue of ddn), I thought I might dust off an article I wrote in May 2009 for the ASMS show, which was also in Philly, and tease your tastebuds.

You, know, just in case you’re going to the Cell Bio meeting or otherwise will have business in Philly soon.

Just don’t send me the bill from your cardiologist.
_____________________________________________

Chowing down

It’s not always healthy, but Philly boasts some tasty traditions

PHILADELPHIA—Apologies to anyone watching their cholesterol, but Philadelphia is home to several gastronomic delights that would make most cardiologists cringe, and they must be mentioned to anyone who hasn’t had a chance to visit the city yet. And yes, the first stop is, as required by federal law, to speak about the cheesesteak—or Philly cheesesteak to the non-natives.

A sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese on a long roll, called a hoagie roll, cheesesteaks are one of the favorite foods of the denizens of Philadelphia. Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the cheesesteak in the early 1930s at their hot dog stand near south Philadelphia’s Italian Market. The popularity was such that Pat opened up his own cheesesteak restaurant, which still operates today as Pat’s King of Steaks. The chief rival of Pat’s, and the other most well-known cheesteak purveyor, is Geno’s Steaks—they are located across the street from each other on 9th St. and Passyunk Ave. in South Philadelphia.

White American cheese, provolone, and Cheez Whiz are the most frequently used cheeses and most-often-available options for a cheesesteak, and you should specify which you want when you order. Swiss, cheddar, and mozzarella are available at some places. And if you hear someone follow up their choice of cheese saying “with” or “without,” that’s Philadelphian shorthand for with or without onions. Other toppings, depending on the shop, can include green peppers, hot sauce, ketchup or pizza sauce.

Another popular sandwich in Philly is the hoagie, which is a kind of submarine sandwich, and when cooked in an oven, is known as a grinder.

Legend says that an area of Philadelphia known as Hog Island, a shipyard during World War I, was where the hoagie originated, as immigrant workers took large Italian sandwiches made with cured meats, spices, oil, tomatoes, onions and peppers for their lunches. Because of the location of the shipyard, the workers were nicknamed “hoggies,” and at some point the sandwiches they ate adopted the same name, which because “hoagie” sometime after World War II.

Despite the more city-themed Philly cheesesteak’s fame, former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell declared the hoagie the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia.”

Not a sandwich lover? Well, Philadelphians are also known for their soft pretzels. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania is responsible for the lion’s share of pretzel production, hard or soft, in the United States. Many will tell you that the best pretzels are to be found from street vendors, small mom-and-pop stores or directly from the factory.

Pretzels wrapped in plastic often tend toward being stale, soggy or too hard, and the best packaging is reportedly a paper bag. Don’t buy pretzels that look moist, because it’s the salt that extracts the water and it the pretzel isn’t dry and golden, it probably isn’t fresh.

Yet another local favorite is the oddly named water ice, which is a variation on Italian ice. Some describe it as a combination of Italian ice and a snow cone that is blended into a smooth semi-frozen slush. Because it is usually fruit blended with ice and has a very smooth texture, it is also sometimes mistaken by outsiders as a smoothie.

If those last two entries seemed a tad too healthy, not to worry. Pennsylvania is also one of a handful of states well-known for serving scrapple, which Wikipedia describes as “a savory mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour.” The resulting mush is formed into a loaf, from which purveyors slice off portions and fry them before serving. Some shops offer a vegetarian scrapple, made from soy protein or wheat gluten, and which reportedly is seasoned more sweetly than typical meat scrapple.

Finishing off with yet another food that should be eaten in moderation, Philadelphia is also home to the Tastykake brand of snack foods, which includes Krimpets, a sponge cake snack with icing and/or filling; Kandy Kakes, chocolate-covered cakes with filling; Kreamies, two-layer cake snacks with filling in-between; and many other concoctions.

That being said, Philadelphia is also home to a wide range of restaurants and cuisines, from the quick and greasy to the leisurely and exotic.

Just a tiny sampling of some of the eateries and restaurants available are the Naked Chocolate Café in the Center City portion of Philly, a chocolate boutique and dessert shop; the upscale “neuvo latino” eatery Alma de Cuba, also in Center City; Morimoto, which is co-owned by Chef Masahuru Morimoto of “Iron Chef” fame and serves up Japanese and fusion cuisine in the Center City; Italian restaurants DiPalma Ristorante and La Famiglia in the Old City area; Mediterranean restaurant Tangerine in Old City; Bistro Romano in Society Hill; farm-fresh- and organic-oriented White Dog Café in University City; and RoseLena’s, which served up Italian with an exotic flair in South Philadelphia.

October 18, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Labwork & Science | , , , | Leave a comment

Pink slips pile up in Big Pharma

We here at ddn are in the business of covering the business side of Big Pharma. But behind every headline touting million- or billion-dollar price tags for mergers, acquisitions and partnership deals, there are the untold stories of collateral damage.

Those stories are coming to the forefront lately as headlines are taking note of the number of pink slips piling up in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the United States was 9.6 percent in September. The unemployment rate has hovered around that figure for most of this year, but it’s about to gain a few percentage points, thanks to recently announced layoffs in Big Pharma.

According to PharmaManufacturing.com, the unemployment rate in pharmaceuticals and life sciences is estimated at 16 percent. Market research firm Reportlinker attributes pharma job losses to several factors. Besides the obvious ones—the economic downturn, the rising number of uninsured Americans and the impending 2011 patent cliff—the firm notes that action taken by the U.S. government as part of healthcare reform legislation will also impact Big Pharma.

“U.S. healthcare reform is set to improve coverage but this will be at the expense of containing healthcare costs,” Reportlinker says. “Although the pharma industry will benefit from the rise in insured individuals, measures such as the increased Medicaid drug rebate and Medicare donut hole discount will have an immediate negative impact on revenues out to 2014.”

Ed Silver, editor of Pharmalot, points out that these numbers may not tell the whole story, since not all job cuts are disclosed: “Some companies cut staff in dribs and drabs, and therefore are not required to file notices with their state governments. The implication is that job losses are greater than the survey implies.”

It can be argued that many of the layoffs are part of the life cycle of merger and acquisition activity. Consider the following:

  • Last year, Abbott Labs purchased Solvay’s drug business for $6.2 billion. Abbott is now cutting about 3,000 jobs in commercial, R&D, manufacturing and staff operations. The company will also close Solvay’s U.S. headquarters in Marietta, Ga.
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which recently acquired ZymoGenetics Inc. for about $885 million, plans to eliminate 3 percent of its headcount—or about 840 jobs—in the next few months.
  • After signing an agreement reportedly worth $1 million with the J. David Gladstone Institutes aimed at identifying treatments for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases, Danish drugmaker H. Lundbeck A/S said it will cut 50 people from its R&D operations in the United States and Europe.
  • Just one month after agreeing to buy Penwest Pharmaceuticals for $144 million, Endo Pharmaceuticals is said to be in the process of laying off an unspecified number of sales managers and sales reps.
  • And most recently, sanofi-aventis—which in recent months has dominated our headlines with its many multimillion- and billion-dollar deals and plans to bring more companies into its fold—announced it will eliminate about 1,700 job in the United States, or about 25 percent of the company’s U.S. pharmaceutical operations division.

In announcing its recent agreement to acquire King Pharmaceuticals Inc., Pfizer Inc. focused on the “cost synergies” it expects to see from the $3.6 billion deal. According to Pfizer, it will take only three years for the dust to settle on the consolidation involved in the bolt-on acquisition. By then, it will have cleared a substantial patent expiration hurdle.

We’ll bring you the details of that acquisition in our November issue, but until then, what is your opinion of the mounting job losses we are seeing in Big Pharma?

October 15, 2010 Posted by | M&A activity | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trying to make Alzheimer’s merely a bad memory

Our very own chief editor Amy Swinderman had a very nice editorial regarding Alzheimer’s disease for our October issue, which you can read by clicking here. Don’t worry, it’ll open up in a new tab or window, so I’ll be waiting for you when you’re done.

OK, you’re back? Great.

Alzheimer’s disease poses one of the biggest potential healthcare crises going, particularly in places like the United States, where a huge Baby Boom population is entering into the risk years for age-related dementias, of which Alzheimer’s may be the single most terrifying to them and their children (and grandchildren).

So, there is little doubt you’ll be seeing a lot about the disease in ddn magazine, as companies and other organizations delve into the research and commercialization of therapies and diagnostics; in our ddn Online e-newsletter, which will feature a “Bench Press” article on Oct. 27 on some Alzheimer’s research and will continue to highlight the disease frequently thereafter; and here at this blog, where we need stuff to talk about and oh, there is so much to talk about with diseases like this, both good and bad.

In the meantime, here are some of our October 2010 issue articles (in their online form) dealing with Alzheimer’s-related items:

New chapter for neurodegenerative diseases unfolds

An ounce of prevention

Anavex taps CROs for Alzheimer’s program

Plus, you can click here or a blog post from the recently launched Harvard Health Blog to give you some additional commentary, insights and leads regarding Alzheimer’s disease.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Corporate, Dealmakers, Labwork & Science | , , , | Leave a comment

Too many cooks at the cancer pot?

This may sound almost heretical from a guy who writes about pharma and biotech business deals and research for a living, but have we perhaps gotten to the point where there are too many organizations in the oncology arena, whether trying to market a product or find a breakthrough around which to build a product?

It’s almost physically uncomfortable for me to voice such a theory, given how pervasive cancer is as a worldwide threat to human life. After all, with such a huge killer of people, wouldn’t you want as many people as possible looking for as many ways as possible to thwart tumors from stealing away precious years and robbing people of quality of life even when they don’t actually lose their lives?

And yet I find myself thinking of the “green” and “organic” movements, and wonder if they are precursors to where oncology is going.

Think about it. The green movement was supposed to be about wise use of resources and a shift toward energy efficiency, reduction of waste, more recycling and the like. But now it seems like many companies want to label themselves as “green” because they use recycled paper coffee cups in the cafeteria or because they encourage carpooling (even though they’re emitting who-knows-what into the air from the business itself). It’s become a gimmick or label, instead of being a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

The organic movement, too, has been corrupted so as to be almost meaningless in many cases. The federal standards to be considered “organic” are too lax, and many big companies slap the word “organic” on unhealthy food items as a sales tool. Also, many foods are labeled as “natural” to suggest they are healthy. Well, lard is natural, but if I consume it straight from the package daily, I will likely need a quadruple bypass eventually.

I fear that oncology, which is justifiably one of the biggest areas of interest in pharma, biotech and diagnostic research, is heading down a similar path.

These concepts began to swirl in my brain a bit some months back when I was interviewing a source for an article dealing with gene-based therapies. He had made an offhand comment about how so many companies were entering the ‘omics space in general—from genomics to proteomics to metabolomics and beyond—that he wondered if there were too many companies trying to jump onto the bandwagon, and he added, “much like we’ve seen with oncology.” He pondered whether they were all there for the sake of the science or if many of them were there to simply make money on the next hot thing. He worried that the cacophony and clutter of too many cooks in the ‘omics kitchen might spoil the broth. And in his mind, he had already seen that happen with oncology.

The thoughts began to come to a full boil when I was doing research for my “Foursome aims to be outsourcing force” article for the October 2010 issue of ddn, and I noticed this tidbit in another article about the merger of Averion International, Trio Clinical Research, Fulcrum Pharma and Clin-Research/ADDPLAN into one global biopharmaceutical and medical device development services organization:

While both Averion and Fulcrum Pharma share a specialty in oncology studies, Donnelly said the company’s focus will be more about bringing new processes and techniques to drug development rather than touting therapeutic expertise in specific areas. “Everybody out there is saying, ‘We are the oncology CRO.’ It’s the largest market out there, so everyone wants to be that. But we want to take that knowledge to the next generation as far as being able to do adaptive trials with it. That’s a differentiator,” he said.

Imagine that. Companies that were known for their oncology expertise, but the field is so crowded that to stand out, they downplay their oncology focus a bit.

It suggests that perhaps things have gotten too crowded.

It’s not that I begrudge anyone making money off of an oncology discovery or product. Far from it. Also, I appreciate the many new strategies and innovations that are helping to provide more hope for people who have been touched by cancer or who fear they might be.

But what I really want to see in the field are academic institutions, companies and other entities who are passionate about beating cancer.

What I fear, though, is that perhaps some are in it just for the money or prestige. They want to be the one who comes up with the next big idea or gets rich from it, and might be willing to put something other than their hearts and minds into the process to make sure that happens. They might be willing to rush, or cut corners, or overlook simpler and cheaper solutions.

It’s not likely a huge problem yet. But I wonder if it will become one. I would hate to see cancer become merely a market opportunity or a fad. I want organizations and the researchers within them to want to beat cancer, because I feel that’s the motivator that will truly lead to cures.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Corporate, Labwork & Science | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up next: Academia’s role in cancer research

If you’re a regular reader of ddn, you’ve probably read the first couple installments of our current series, Trends in Cancer Research, and now the October issue will bring you a focus on the growing importance and role of companion diagnostics in oncology drug pipelines and revenues.

In November, we will be examining academia’s growing role in cancer research as the effort to find new drug candidates to fight this insidious disease continues. We will examine which academic research centers are at the forefront of cancer research; some of the more significant advances in cancer research that came from the academic world; and their main focus in the expansive universe of oncology reseach, be it tumors, delivery, genomics or some other area.

As I cover these areas, another subject I hope to learn more about is whether studying at one of these centers can unlock more career opportunities for its students.

Lastly, we will be asking people how academic research centers select commercial partners—an important issue, of course, with ddn’s business focus.

I welcome input from ddn readers on this vast topic, as many of you are experts in this very area, work in academia in key leadership positions, or know people who have the insights we need for the articles. We have our sources, but we can’t know everyone, and if you can help expand our network, please do. To participate as a source for our upcoming installment or to suggest a source you think I should contact, e-mail me at hutton@drugdiscoverynews.com.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Labwork & Science | , , , , , | Leave a comment