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Tue October 11, 2011
Dr. Brent Stockwell, Columbia University - Fewer New Drugs
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Brent Stockwell of Columbia University reveals why the past decade has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of new drugs.
Brent Stockwell is an associate professor of biological sciences at Columbia University and an Early Career Scientist of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Stockwell's research seeks to define cell death mechanisms in order to better understand and treat cancer and neurodegeneration. He previously served as independent Fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where he developed new tools to enable the exploration of biology with small molecules. He is the author of The Quest for the Cure: The Science and Stories Behind the Next Generation of Medicines, published in June of 2011.
Dr. Brent Stockwell - Fewer New Drugs
We take it for granted that a new drug is always around the corner. However, there is a possibility that we are running out of new drugs entirely. This concern is based on the observation that over the last 15 years, the number of new drugs approved has declined dramatically, even while funding for drug research has soared. It is getting tougher and tougher to find new drugs.
One explanation for this declining productivity is that researchers are running out of proteins to target with drugs. Drug molecules function by interacting with pockets on specific proteins in cells. However, all known drugs interact with just 2% of the proteins found inside human cells. The vast majority of the remaining proteins are considered undruggable, or intractable. These undruggable proteins don't have large cavities on their surfaces that traditional drug molecules can attach to. Thus, despite the fact that these undruggable proteins are the root causes of many diseases, they have been impossible to tackle with traditional drug molecules.
New approaches are being developed that involve engineering drug molecules with different shapes than traditional drugs. Such molecules might be able to slip into crevices on proteins that traditional drug molecules are unable to access. If these new drug molecules with different molecular architectures are effective, they would represent the next generation of medicines. They would also be able to control the function of nearly any protein. This would be a powerful tool for deciphering the molecular networks that control the inner working of living systems.