This article was originally published in Start Up
Stratifying patients in clinical trials based on their genes could help get new drugs approved faster, and revive failed compounds. Genomics companies have the infrastructure, technologies, and desire to make the science of pharmacogenetics their business. Start-ups are using people’s differing responses to drugs as platforms for new ‘personalized’ drug development strategies.
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So far, pharmacogenomics, the study of the effects of an individual's genetic makeup on their response to drugs, has not produced the hoped-for revolution in the pharmaceutical industry, due primarily to lagging approvals and the high cost of molecular testing. Nevertheless, the promise of personalized medicine is very real, and several exciting products have received FDA approval.
Pharmacogenomics has disappointed advocates who saw the opportunity to apply a discovery tool to the near-term goal of increasing approval chances and marketability for late-stage and marketed compounds. In return, they hoped to take a percentage of the highest-cost segment of the pharmaceutical budget. But Big Pharma is by and large not using pharmacogenomics for late-stage and marketed compounds: senior executives don't believe there's enough evidence it works and are afraid of limiting the marketability of the products by segmenting broad target populations into niches. Some also worry about uncovering potential side-effects that non-pharmacogenomic trials wouldn't reveal. Nonetheless, pharmacogenomics has made it to Big Pharma: most companies, for example, are banking samples from clinical trials to be pharmacogenomically tested retrospectively, thereby informing future trials. Not that this means the pharmacogenomics specialists will be able to sign high-value deals with the commercial side of drug companies, who believe that pharmacogenomic analysis is available from a number of sources, including internal ones, and feel they own the key assets for creating meaningful programs: compounds and patient samples. Instead, pharmacogenomics will find its place first as a discovery technology, integrated with other methods for finding, validating and prioritizing targets. That means that to succeed selling pharmacogenomics, biotechs will have to combine their pharmacogenomic assets with other discovery technologies, perhaps through mergers. An alternative: use their technologies to find drug products that they can themselves develop, perhaps later out-licensing them.
Gentris Corp. is developing and commercializing proprietary clinical pharmacogenomic markers, initially for pharmaceutical customers but ultimately to offer as clinical diagnostics. Pharmacogenomics, it believes, can improve trial design, and increase predictability, shorten the drug development cycle, improve new drug approval rates, and enable companies to retest drug candidates that fail to meet clinical trial or FDA approval standards.