Industry Briefing: Biotech
- 2000 7 Jul
Reprinted with permission from World Finance Net IPO Newsletter, written by Alexander Hock.
One of the biggest problems facing the medical and drug maker communities is the unpredictability of a patients response to treatment. Every individual is different, and similarly every individuals reaction to treatment is different. Until very recently, doctors had little or no way to approach this problem, but in the last 20 years an emerging field of science known as Pharmacogenetics has begun exploring these differences.
Pharmacogenetics studies the differences in responses to drugs. These differences generally stem from genetic variability, and can range from severe allergic reactions, to simple differences in absorption rates. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998, Pomeranz Lazarou found that over 2.2 million patients suffered some type of serious adverse drug reaction, while over 100,000 people suffered fatal reactions.
The ability to prevent these types of reactions represents a relatively untapped market for businesses. This is one area in which bio-informatics companies, such as Celera, Gene Logic, and Curagen, can gain potential profits. These companies are all involved in intense genetic research, and have the ability to rapidly examine DNA. Since Pharmacogenetics relies on information gained by studying the differences in individuals DNA, these companies are a natural fit.
DNA is made up of a series of molecules called nucleotides. The information contained in the DNA is dependent upon the order in which these nucleotides are arranged. From one human to the next, this order can differ on a level of 0.1%. These differences account for such things as hair and skin color, to drug absorption rates and drug effects. Understanding these differences allows for a much more individualized approach to disease treatment.
Differences on the level of 0.1% translate into a total difference of 3,000,000 nucleotides between individuals. To researchers, these differences are known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or SNPs. Discovering these SNPs allows researchers to examine their effects. If a particular SNP can be linked with a drug response, measures can be taken to prevent unwanted responses or take advantage of positive responses.
This focus on the prevention of harmful reactions is exciting, but its commercial benefits are limited. Companies may be able to gain revenues by comparing an individuals DNA against some type of master blueprint to predict drug response, which would aid physicians treating diseases, but other than this service, there are few applications of Pharmacogenetics. However, another branch of science called PharamacoGENOMICS is using the Pharmacogenetic information in the drug manufacturing process. PharmacoGENOMICS also represents an untapped commercial market, and will be discussed in an upcoming article.
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