ddn Online

The Blog of Drug Discovery News

Prince of Darkness and wife bring personal genomics issues to light

Last week, our senior editor, David Hutton, shared with you the news that rock star Ozzy Osbourne had his full genome sequence. Shortly after the Prince of Darkness revealed the results of his testing at the TEDMED conference in San Diego, his wife, Sharon Osbourne—a celebrity of her own right, between managing her husband’s career and her many television gigs—discussed the experience on her new talk show, “The Talk.”

“The Talk” is a daily talk/variety show co-hosted by Julie Chen, Sarah Gilbert, Holly Robinson Peete, Leah Remini and Marissa Jaret Winokur.

According to the Osbournes, the couple decided to allow Cofactor Genomics and Knome Inc. to sequence and analyze their DNA, respectively, because “they were looking for a celebrity to say, “OK, I don’t mind knowing what my medical life is going to be and I don’t mind sharing it with the world,” said Sharon to her co-hosts.

“Eventually—say, in 10 years, this invention will be in every doctor’s office, all over the world, where they take your blood, they analyze it, and they will tell you your complete medical path in life,” Sharon, who is a colon cancer survivor, said. “Everything, from your allergies, to your heart, to your brain, to how clever you are, to what you excel in. It’s such a leap, scientifically and medically, for all of us, that in 10 years, we’ll go into a doctor’s office and you’ll know if you have a cancer gene. You will know how to deal with it before it becomes an active cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s.”

According to Sharon, among the insights Ozzy gained into his DNA were that he is allergic to coffee, has a “slight nerve disorder” as well as “the addictive gene” and is a” distant cousin” of TV talk show host and comedian Stephen Colbert. But Ozzy wasn’t exactly eager to hear the results, she said.

“He thought that it was, ‘where am I going to die,’ like someone was going to go to somebody and they were going to read his palm, like, ‘where am I going to go, so I never go into that place?'” Sharon said.

As David shared with you all last week, Ozzy has said that if genetic testing determines he has a risk of developing an untreatable disease such as Alzheimer’s, he’d rather not know about it. Ozzy’s tests came back negative in that regard, but Sharon is eagerly awaiting her results and hoping for the same outcome.

“The reasons I wanted to do it were because my father died of Alzheimer’s, and my mother’s mother died of Alzheimer’s, she said. “I want to know if I’m going to get it, so I can get my life in order.”

“I don’t know if I want to know,” said Sharon’s co-host, Peete, an actress and advocate for autism awareness and research. That’s the sentiment expressed by many folks since personal genetic testing became commercially available. We first reported on this debate in July 2009, when I interviewed 23andMe about a partnership the personal genomics company forged with PatientsLikeMe.com, an online patient community and platform for collecting and sharing patient data, on a large-scale genetic study of Parkinson’s disease. In an editorial column that month, I revealed that 23andMe was facing controversy because some view that patients may not be able to “handle” knowing more about their health, and that some doctors feel it’s not their responsibility to “explain” the outcome of these personal genetic tests to their patients.

In September, we also reported that some “direct-to-consumer” personal genetic testing providers are under federal scrutiny for alleged misleading test results, deceptive marketing and other questionable practices.

What about you? Do you want to know what sort of health problems your DNA has in store for you?

November 7, 2010 Posted by | Labwork & Science | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What happens when a biotech takes its talents to South Beach?

What happens when a biotech takes its talents to South Beach?

No, that’s not yet another joke borrowed from the strange vernacular that has become former Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James’ recent decision to leave the Cleve for Miami.

“This is tough, but … this fall, I am taking my talents to South Beach,” James announced via an overblown, overhyped, hour-long special on ESPN in July called “The Decision.”

The revelation and associated public relations mess sent Cleveland—where ddn is based—as well as sympathetic fans in other cities, into a tailspin. In the months since and leading up to the start of the NBA season, this poorly planned PR tsunami has so dominated headlines and popular culture that even I, who can be quite accurately described as “not a sports fan,” dedicated my monthly column to it in June (see “We are all witnesses … to failure and success”). In the piece, I drew a correlation between Cleveland’s projections of hope and success onto a guy who wears sneakers to work, and the pharma industry’s inability to rebound from some of drug discovery’s most inherent failures, such as failed clinical trials.

The column proved popular among our readers, who very generously took the time to reach out and weigh in on what I described as “misguided frustration.” They were equally opinionated when I penned a “Jeers” to James and his astonishingly short-sighted PR reps in his camp for our August issue.

Most people marveled that I was somehow able to make a comparative leap between professional basketball and Big Pharma work. To tell you the truth, I still don’t know what made me decide to attempt it. But it seems like I am not the only one who thinks that Big Pharma can learn something from South Beachgate.

Weighing in on Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMS) recent acquisition of Seattle-based biotech ZymoGenetics—a deal valued at approximately $885 million—Stewart Lyman, owner and manager of Lyman BioPharma Consulting LLC in Seattle, took to an Xconomy blog to draw his own parallel:

“I guess I look at the ZymoGenetics acquisition in the same way that people in Cleveland look at the loss of LeBron James to the Miami Heat,” Lyman writes. “They spent years watching him develop his game to the highest level, only to see him depart just when they were hoping for greatness. Yes, it was his decision to leave, but would the fans be less upset if he had been traded to Miami for a second-round draft choice, just so the team could save payroll?”

Lyman is disappointed that the ZymoGenetics buyout will mean a loss of more than 300 biotech-related jobs from the Seattle area, a region that is ranked third or fourth among U.S. biotech centers, and is a popular destination for start-up companies.

“Publicly traded biotechs are supposed to be acting in the best interests of their shareholders, but this may not align with the best interests of their employees or the greater public at large,” Lyman adds.

According to BMS, the fate of ZymoGenetics’ facilities in Seattle and its 300-plus employees has yet to be decided. But until the deal closes and that announcement is made, Lyman has another sports analogy:

“The Green Bay Packers thrive in the smallest market of any team in professional sports. However, because the people in Green Bay actually own the team, they never have to worry about them leaving town for a bigger market. Could such a model work in biotech?” he wonders.

Speaking of jobs, BMS apparently just announced that it will  eliminate about 3 percent of its workforce, or 840 jobs, over the next six months as part of a “streamlining initiative.” Interesting!

What do you think? Is merger and acquisition activity in the pharma/biotech industries a sign of a healthy industry, or does it adversely impact specific geographic regions that are trying to become biotech hubs, creating jobs and producing novel therapeutics in the process?

We’ll discuss the BMS-ZymoGenetics deal in-depth in our upcoming October issue, but in the meantime, feel free to weigh in on this popular topic.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | M&A activity | , , , , | Leave a comment