A custom collaboration with: Quintiles
Turning More to Translational Research
Some of the best tools to improve the business of making pharmaceuticals come from basic research, and pharmaceutical companies can reduce risk by relying more on translational research. That is, companies improve the odds of making safer and more effective treatments by knowing more about human biology, individual genomes and mechanisms behind diseases. “Your investment dollar should yield more money because you are applying cutting edge research,” Wooten says. New research could also change the use of medical devices.
A cascade of new scientific and technological discoveries promises to streamline healthcare delivery, boost disease detection and create new surgical and investigational tools. “We are just beginning to see how new technologies will transform medicine,” says C. Donald Combs, vice-provost for planning and health professions at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va.
For instance, Anthony Altala’s laboratory at Wake Forest University School of Medicine is one of several worldwide growing replacement human tissues in the laboratory, including bladders, heart valves, livers and blood vessels. In this emerging field of “regenerative medicine,” cells from individual patients are extracted, cultured and “engineered” or grown into replacement tissues and organs to be transplanted back without risk of rejection. Currently, researchers are using ink-jet printer technology to spray regenerated skin cells onto burn patients. In the future, lab-grown tissues will be combined with three-dimensional imaging technologies. “With stereo-lithography machines, one day you will be able to fabricate hip joints tailored to each specific patient,” Combs says.
New technologies and novel applications are also advancing disease detection. Hur Koser and colleagues at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science have invented a ferrofluid (a liquid mixture that reacts to an applied magnetic field) and a detector that can jointly uncover and separate various cells, including cancer biomarkers, sickle cells, viruses and bacteria from blood, saliva or other body fluids. The ferrofluid includes magnetic nanoparticles suspended in a liquid carrier that allows human cells to survive in it for several hours. The detector’s magnetic field pattern can be set to attract different cell types, depending on their size, elasticity and shape. “Using this technology, we can create diagnostic systems that are cheap, portable and easy to use,” Koser says.
Similarly, James Reuben and colleagues at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have found another way to unmask breast cancer CTCs using magnetic beads covered with monoclonal antibodies, offering the possibility of early diagnosis and new therapeutic targets. “This has applications for any tumor of the epithelial type,” Reuben says. Prospective studies of this technology are now under way.
The process of developing therapeutics has multiple expense points, which will undoubtedly change as new business models replace old ones. Here is a snapshot of the current major expenditures related to the bench-to-bedside enterprise.
© 2010 Scientific American,
a division of Nature America, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.