Are genomics and proteomics just buzzwords, or do they represent significant fields for advancing drug development?
JM: I don't like these terms because to me they're flashy, and I think they tend to cover up a world of complexity. When people
were talking about sequencing the human genome, they said as soon as we had completed the genome sequencing project, all of
these new drugs were just going to roll off the assembly line. But the biology was daunting, and progress has been much slower
than we envisioned. So I tend to be skeptical. With regards to proteomics, we are seeing vast amounts of research leading
to new products, and at last, some notable progress. By analogy, back in the 1970s when the biotechnology industry was in
its infancy, everybody was saying that these companies were just going to be developing new products like the computer industry.
But the early days of biotech were disappointing. There was a lot of hype and they came up with some products, but these companies
were out there just desperately trying to survive for years and years. The human body is immensely more complex than any computer
that we've been able to dream up.
Designing new computer technology is simple compared to understanding the human body. Imagine how much is out there that we
don't have a clue about. We don't even understand the causative basis of Alzheimer's disease. We don't understand what the
cause and effect relationship is between the neurofibrillary plaques and the amyloid protein. There are basic questions about
devastating diseases such as cancer and HIV that we're still grappling with, and we seem to be years away from understanding
Do you think that proteins hold more promise than small molecules?
JM: For what researchers are finding in the field of therapeutics, I think the protein molecules seem to be much more exciting
than small molecules. But the problem with the protein molecules is you've got to inject them, they can't be ingested orally.
So now the answer may be peptides. Maybe peptides could be designed from big proteins and these peptides could be created
in a format stable enough to be put into a capsule. Because anything you have to inject with a syringe into a patient is always
going to meet with patient resistance — it's a big block to gain acceptance.
Are researchers taking a more holistic approach today?
JM: I think that we are gradually coming to the recognition that all the diseases we're struggling with today are networks of
changes that take place in a normally functioning system, ending in a pathological state. It's not like the past when patients
with a bacterial disease would receive penicillin and the drug would kill the organism. What we're finding is that all the
present challenges are networks, or spider webs that just infiltrate a healthy organism and bring its normal functioning capability
to a halt. So knocking these out won't be possible using a single agent. You're not going to have a magic bullet, but rather
you'll have an arsenal of bullets that will simultaneously attack components of these disease networks.
Pam Holland-Moritz is senior editor at BioPharm International, 732.346.3059, fax