Last week the 5th Annual Drug Discovery & Development Virtual Conference, hosted by Labroots, was held online, and featured a diverse range of presenters from across the world. The conference included speakers and researchers from industry and academia who discussed cutting edge research, key challenges, and new developments in the world of drug discovery. The overall goals for the conference were to highlight novel approaches to drug discovery and preclinical development, elucidate advancements in pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and other pharmacogenomics studies, and explore new ways in which researchers are dealing with clinical trials in today’s society. While there were over 30 speakers and poster presenters at the conference, below are three topics that caught my attention as a both a researcher and writer.
Microphysiological systems, such as organ-on-a-chip, are systems that integrate microengineering, microfluidic technologies, and biochemistry principles that mimic many aspects of living organs. In short, these systems can model multi-cellular and tissue-to-tissue interactions that are useful for testing drug effects and help to better translate to humans. This topic proved popular at the event and underlines its relevance to the field. Many researchers and companies are using microphysiological systems to help speed up the drug development process and these systems have proven important to test for drug toxicity and drug interactions. Speakers at the conference, such as Dr. Michael Johnson and his company Visikol, Dr. Audrey Dobourg of CN-BIO, and Dr. James McKim of IONTOX, all spoke about how they use microphysiological systems to address and overcome issues in the process of drug development.
Dr. Alexander Sebastian Hauser of the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen shared an exciting talk regarding his work on personalized medicine through g-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) pharmacogenetics. GPCRs are a major target of many drugs on the market. Despite rigorous clinical testing of medical products, there is still a significant issue of “imprecision medicine,” exemplified by how few individuals benefit form prescribed drugs. An infographic in the article cited here is helpful in illustrating this problem. It shows that the top ten highest-selling drugs in the United States only help between 1 in 25 and 1 in 4 of the people who take them. In other words, many people are taking drugs that are supposed to benefit them, but in reality, have no effect. Additionally, adverse reactions to drugs make up the 4th to 6th leading cause of mortality. As such, Dr. Hauser’s work aims to make drugs more effective by targeting genetic variations in GPCRs that may result in altered drug responses.
Another significant talk was a keynote presentation given Dr. Michelle Longmire, CEO and Co-founder of Medable. Dr. Longmire’s company focuses on using a decentralized clinical trial platform to help provide effective therapies to patients on quicker timescale than standard clinical trials. Dr. Longmire began by asking, how can we enable effective therapies to reach patients faster? She went on to discuss substantial impediments that prevent new drugs from reaching patients in need.
One factor that impedes the drug development process is cost. Today the cost to develop one new drug equals what it would have taken to make 90 new drugs 70 years ago, even after adjusting for inflation. Current costs for a successful drug discovery and development programs are around $2.6 billion USD. On top of this, time is another important factor that prevents access to new, effective therapies. Today it takes approximately 12 years for a drug to get through the development process, from clinical trials to market. At this current pace of drug development, it will take close to 200 years to develop a single treatment for most human illnesses.
Another major impediment for drug discovery is equity in clinical trials. Dr. Longmire noted that less than 3% of eligible participants have access to clinical trials. Moreover, 53 new drugs were approved by the FDA in 2021 and 75% of the 32,000 participants who participated in the clinical trials for these drugs were white. This highlights the issue that the drug discovery process needs more inclusivity and to consider layers such as ethnicity and genetic diversity when performing clinical trials.
So how can we solve these pressing issues and make treatments more readily available for patients? One way is through decentralized clinical trials, which are defined as clinical trials that can be executed through telemedicine and/or mobile/local healthcare providers by using procedures that vary from the traditional clinical trial model. Dr. Longmire believes that, “our greatest opportunity to deliver significant increases in the speed and effectiveness of drug development won’t come from the lab; it will happen from new, more efficient and equitable clinical trials.”
Overall, the Drug Discovery and Development Virtual Event was highly informative. Together, the speakers and researchers at the conference helped to show that the drug development world is working collectively to improve health and address unmet needs in medicine.
Of course, there were many more fascinating talks and posters presented at the conference. For full details, and to register for the now on-demand conference, click on the link here: Labroots Drug Discovery and Development 2022 Virtual Event