Sixty years ago, when James Watson and Francis Crick elucidated and published their seminal work on the double helical nature of DNA, they could hardly have imagined the explosion of information about cellular activities and disease pathways happening today.
With this explosion, the challenge for scientific database producers is to curate and process the published literature, small molecules, proteins, sequences and numeric data in ways that effectively deliver meaningful results in real time to today’s medicinal chemists and molecular and cell biologists.
The biotechnology industry has changed the way we think about diagnosis and disease intervention; it has had profound effects in agriculture with genetically-modified foods and in the area of alternative energy with research into the production of biodiesel fuels and the corn-to-ethanol conversion. And now the results in drug discovery are following the same trajectory. EvaluatePharma recently predicted that by 2018, 50 percent of sales from the top 100 therapeutic products would be generated by biologics (World Preview 2013, Outlook to 2018 report).
Since the first biopharmaceutical, human insulin, was developed by Genentech via recombinant DNA technology (trade-named Humulin® and licensed to Eli Lilly in 1982), the biopharmaceutical industry has advanced rapidly with successes such as Enbrel®, Humira®, and Remicade®, to name just a few. With revenues estimated at $48.5 billion (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, 2013 Biopharmaceutical Research Industry Profile), the results of increasing biopharmaceutical research and development investment are evident. Of the 43 new medicines approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012, novel therapies developed through biopharmaceutical research included treatments for respiratory distress syndrome in premature infants, leukemia, Cushing’s disease, tuberculosis, skin cancer and cystic fibrosis.
Like their pharmaceutical colleagues, biotech companies deciding to pursue the treatment of a disease commit huge sums of capital that will be invested over the lifetime of a project. Before making a financial commitment like this, it is vital to know as much as possible about the intended project. Is the disease pathway known? Are there any validated targets in that pathway? Is anyone else solving or working on the problem? What does the patent landscape look like? Can any existing therapies be improved? In the rarified atmosphere of the boardroom the answers to these questions, which are almost never straightforward, must be determined before a company decides to invest between $1.5 and $4 billion, the estimated cost to bring a new therapeutic entity to market (Biotech 2013 – Life Sciences: Capturing Value, Burrill & Company’s 27th Annual Report on the Life Sciences Industry).
The challenge for data consolidation in today’s information-laden world is separating the reliable material from the simply available, and delivering it to scientists in a useful manner.
Roger Schenck Manager, Content Promotions at Chemical Abstract Services