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Paths to commercialization are uncertain in nutrigenomics, an emerging science which seeks to identify gene-food interactions that differ among subpopulations and between individuals and to personalize diets to prevent disease.
These days, consumers reach for calcium-fortified orange juice to keep bones healthy, whole-grain Cheerios that reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and bags of walnuts that advertise Omega 3, for heart health. The founders of WellGen believe the time is right to push the frontier of food science into medicine. With a patent from Rutgers University, WellGen will screen food substances against genes implicated in diseases.
Microbial drug resistance is a real and growing problem, but drugmakers face disincentives: a plethora of products already on the market, the difficulty of differentiating drugs, and the habit of reserving truly new drugs for emergencies. Big Pharmas are backing out, creating opportunities for small companies who feel they can play successfully. But lack of interest from large partners means biotechs can't access the assets those firms hold, so many start-ups are pairing up with peers. Some firms are building businesses around an abundance of targets derived through genomics. But others are deliberately avoiding working with novel genetic code and instead studying whole cells and physiological changes in organisms. Many firms are addressing the lack of chemical diversity against targets. Some of these are pursuing diversity through natural products like marine microbes, insisting they'll fare better than earlier firms did, in part because of technological advances. Others are trying to create diversity synthetically, by taking structural approaches to understanding targets new and old, as well as compounds. Crystallography, in silico libraries, computational models and mass spectroscopy are key tools in iterative development processes that remain unproven in the anti-infectives field. Some firms are seeking to minimize the risks of novelty, by putting their efforts into developing new versions of antibiotics that worked well before resistance grew. No matter what technological approach start-ups take to developing antibiotics, all face similar challenges external to themselves-primarily in regulatory affairs and funding, but also in hunting Big Pharma partnerships.
Long resistant to consolidation, Japan's drug industry is now beginning to hurt too much to ignore the possibility. Yoshio Yano of Japan's International Pharma Consulting, rates the companies in terms of their ability to internationalize--and, for those who can't, their likelihood to become part of another company.