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Drug Discovery and Development in the 21st Century: The need for 'pink diamonds'

Around 70 people attended FRAME's scientific meeting to hear representatives of industry, academia and government discuss ways in which new drugs can be found that are safe and effective, without the demand for more animal testing.

Denis Noble at the lectern Among the key speakers was Professor Denis Noble of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics at the University of Oxford who ended the symposium by giving his personal reflections on the day.


He warned that new ways of thinking were essential to ensure the best outcomes for patients in the future but science today is not designed to support lateral thinkers.


His said modern science needs more 'pink diamonds'; the type of researchers who refuse to think along conventional lines, regardless of how others suggest they should.


Many of the great names of the past, such as Darwin or Einstein, did not fit the standard pattern of an academic and today would be highly unlikely to receive funding or support as a result.


He said he was pleased to hear that so many new approaches to drug development were under consideration but pointed out that there were a number of other problems to be overcome, including funding, public confidence, difficulties with collaboration, and the ethical challenges of obtaining human material for research.


The meeting raised a number of other relevant ideas and questions:


• There is a need to avoid conventional thinking and to look for new approaches to both drug development and testing.


• The future will bring a move from blockbuster drugs aimed at treating everyone, to nichebuster drugs designed for particular phenotypes or even individuals – so-called Personalised Medicine.


• Advances in genetics are making it increasingly possible to tailor drugs to smaller groups and identify in advance those who are genetically predisposed to non-response or detrimental side effects.


• New rules on testing will be necessary as it becomes easier to produce drugs tailored to individuals, based on their genome.


• There is growing recognition in industry that drug companies must work more closely with academia, government, patient care groups and other stakeholders to make the most beneficial progress for all.


• Emerging technologies are creating an increased need for data sharing and collaboration between researchers, both in industry and academia.


• A key growth area in research is the use of stem cells in toxicity testing. The current 6% level is expected to rise to almost 50% within two or three years.


• More than 5,000 new chemicals, not just drugs, are being produced each year but there is little consensus on the methods that should be used to test safety of different types such as cosmetics, drugs and household items. 


The event was a joint venture sponsored by FRAME and the Home Office with support from Glaxo Smith Kline.

A full programme of speakers and topics can be found here


Archived Dec 8 2009