The Cambridge-MIT Institute has launched a project to tackle the bottlenecks that slow development of new drugs

The Next-Generation Drug Discovery Community will unite researchers at Cambridge University and MIT with partners from the information technology, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to find ways to speed up development of the next generation of drugs--particularly those that treat diseases with complex causes such as cancers, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

"Our aims are to develop safer and more effective new drugs, faster and cheaper," said Douglas Lauffenburger, the Whitaker Professor of Biological Engineering and Chemical Engineering and director of the Biological Engineering Division at MIT. "Another aim is reduce the current reliance on animal experiments to predict effects on humans."

Drug discovery is an extremely lengthy and costly process. On average, it takes new treatments $800 million and 12 years to reach the market. But the sequencing of the human genome has made available a vast array of new information. CMI's newest initiative will move away from the old "one gene, one protein, one drug" paradigm and will adopt a multidisciplinary, systems biology approach.

"There are major computational challenges involved if we are going to make sense of all the data and use it to start building systems-level views of life and disease processes," said Gos Micklem, part of the Cambridge team. "As we start to do this, and take into account the genetic variations among individuals, this opens up new possibilities in evaluating disease susceptibility, improved diagnosis and the ability to offer therapy tailored to each individual patient."

The initiative is conducting two research projects. One will study adult blood stem cells with the aim of using them to establish new experimental systems to test the efficacy and toxicity of drugs on human physiology. The other project aims to create new computational methods by which drug targets can be identified from human gene- and protein-level data.

The Next-Generation Drug Discovery Community and the Pervasive Computing Community (see MIT Tech Talk, March 31) are among four Knowledge Integration Communities that the Cambridge-MIT Institute is setting up. These groups are seeking new ways for academia and industry to push forward research in areas where British industry has a demonstrable competitive position, such as biotechnology and information technology.

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