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The road from kindergarten to medicine is long and expensive

Ben Hirschler, Reuters
Science marked another milestone with the first publication of the first human genome description, but the road to a new era of genetics-based medicine is longer and more expensive than everyone first thought.

Few doubt that the mapping of the 3.1 billion letters in the "recipe book" that determines all human characteristics will ultimately change my face

Today's drugs aim to treat 483 biological targets. Mapping the human gene may yield an additional 5,000 or more targets, according to the scientists, although only a minority of the 40-30 genes that, according to the new study, make up the
The human body, will be targets for drugs.

This discovery holds the promise of new drugs and treatments for serious problems such as heart disease, Alzheimer's and cancer.

However, the immediate impact on the pharmaceutical industry, which generates 300 billion dollars a year, will be an increase in costs and not the opening of a gold mine of profits, according to a new study by the investment bank Lehman Brothers and the consulting firm McKinsey.

The cost of failures

Ian Smith, a Lehman analyst in London, said the average cost of bringing a new drug to market, including the cost of failures, would double. Most likely, from 800 million dollars in 2000 to 1.6 billion dollars in 2005, before dropping to 2010 billion dollars in XNUMX

The reason is simple - over the next few years the pharmaceutical industry will be working on a higher percentage of subjects for drug treatment, and these, by definition, will have a higher failure rate than conventional drugs going
in the way of established products.

Those who expect a huge leap in the near term in the productivity of the pharmaceutical industry, and a flood of new drug approvals, are likely to be disappointed.

"Genetic research and the technologies derived from it will lead to many more opportunities for drug discovery and development, but the coming period will be a period of digestion for the industry, which will have to learn the path from the genes to the drug targets," said Smith.

extended time constants

A year ago, genetic research was one of the hottest areas for investors looking for the "next big thing" in technology, in the days of the dotcom bubble. Since then, the market has come back down to earth with a thud. Shares of Celera, the research company
The geneticist founded by scientist Craig Venter and leading the mapping of the human gene, reached a peak of $275 the previous February, and now trades around $45.

The Icelandic company deCODE Genetics, founded to explore Iceland's unique gene heritage, fell from $30 in August to $9

"The market is running too fast on the genetics craze," said Tim Wilson, a biotechnology analyst at Bear Stearns. "In the long term - and I'm talking about decades - the human genome will change the face of society, not to mention health services. What everyone forgets is the huge time constants. From the discovery of a gene to the arrival of a drug, it takes more than 10 years, and there is no reduction in the risk of failure."

working on it

The work on drugs that focus on certain genes has been going on since the early 90s, even without the complete knowledge. But only now is this work beginning to yield results. Companies like Human Genome Sciences and Antibody Technology
Clinical trials are expected to begin this year. They will test a genetic medicine designed to help people with immune system problems.

However, the big pharmaceutical companies have not yet been able to produce small molecule drugs from genetic research. Small molecule products, unlike protein drugs, are the "holy grail" of drug inventors, because
You can give them as tablets and not by injection.

A vision of medicine

Francis Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which leads the publicly funded Human Genome Project, has a vision of engineered drugs based on genetic research that will address the root of the problem instead
In the symptoms of many serious diseases - after 2020.

Ten years before that, according to the vision, science will be able to produce tests that will predict at least a dozen common diseases in which the genetic structure plays a part - such as diabetes and heart disease - and will allow doctors to prescribe drugs more accurately.

Bill Castel, CEO of the biotechnology company Nycomed Amersham, sees a parallel to the beginning of the biotechnology industry 20 years ago. The real money only started flowing in 1996.
"Genetic research will have a serious impact on healthcare and lead to a new era of personalized medicine - but it won't happen between
Night," said Castel.

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