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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 26, 2005

Antivirals "Gathering Dust"?

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Posted by Derek

The CBC has an article claiming that:

"Formulas for new, inexpensive influenza drugs that could expand the world's tiny arsenal of weapons against pandemic flu are gathering dust because the pharmaceutical industry isn't interested in developing them, scientists say.

They believe governments should fund the testing and development of the drugs, side-stepping big pharma and bringing them to market as cheap generic medications.

And they point to the story of Relenza - one of only four flu drugs currently sold - as evidence public-sector involvement will be needed if crucial new flu drugs are ever going to hit pharmacy shelves. . ."

Which scientists say these things? Well, one of them is Mark von Itzstein, of Griffith University in Australia, who is quoted as saying that he has "three compounds that are ready to be tested in animals and could be available on a commercial basis in three to five years for about $10 a treatment course". You have to get to the end of the article to get to some of the problems with that statement, and some of them never make it to the surface at all.

For one thing, having three compounds that are ready to be tested in animals is not as big a number as it might sound. I've been on projects where many more compounds than that - about ten times more, in some cases - went into animal testing, and nothing still came out the other end. It's good to have compounds that you believe in, but Prof. von Itzstein (who helped discover the drug now sold as Relenza) surely knows, you usually need a lot more shots on goal than that.

Another little detail is that going from this unspecified "animal testing" (efficacy model? two-week toxicity?) to "available on a commercial basis" in under five years is rather unlikely. That's a very, very short time for drug development, and I don't see how all the regulatory requirements could be met so quickly. And having a cost estimate in hand makes it seem as if there's already a bulk synthesis of the compounds, but why would you do that before you've even come close to going into animals?

This all has to do with a Worthwhile Candian Initiative called ICAV, which aims to get more antiviral drugs on the market. I certainly can support that idea, but I think that the people involved will soon find out one reason why there aren't more of them already: antiviral drug development is very hard. There are a lot of disparaging references in that CBC article about the profit-driven drug companies ignoring all these worthy drugs, but then there's this:

"ICAV is trying to get buy-in from governments around the world, starting with Canada. It has asked the federal government for $70 million over seven years to promote development of antiviral drugs for a number of diseases, including influenza, HIV and hepatitis C."

You know, I could have sworn that those indications could all support profitable drugs - if of course, they, like, work and everything. One of the problems with neuraminidase inhibitors like Relenza is that they have to be administered rather soon in the disease's progression, or they're basically useless. That's one reason that they haven't caught on, together with their often less-than-compelling efficacy. But getting antivirals with compelling efficacy is, as mentioned, hard. Those of us over in the profit-driven drug industry can only agree with Prof. von Itzstein wholeheartedly when he's quoted as saying "We need new antivirals." The only thing I would add is just a "good" in the middle of that sentence.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Infectious Diseases


1. Mark Wilson on September 26, 2005 10:43 PM writes...

For $11,400 the CBC could buy a whole book on the drug industry's HCV pipeline.* This is a large and potentially very lucrative market. Why the Canadian government should spend its healthcare dollars on HCV is beyond me.

* I'm not affiliated with the publisher and am not recommending the book to anyone other than the CBC.

Permalink to Comment

2. Mark Wilson on September 26, 2005 10:46 PM writes...

For $11,400 the CBC could buy a whole book on the drug industry's HCV pipeline (see ).* This is a large and potentially very lucrative market. Why the Canadian government would want to spend its healthcare dollars on HCV drug R&D is beyond me.
[* I'm not affiliated with the publisher and am not recommending the book to anyone other than the CBC.]

Permalink to Comment

3. Petros on September 27, 2005 3:10 AM writes...

And aren't Biota, the originators of Relenza, suing GSK over claims that the latter has failed to amrket teh drug properly?

Or was this because Biota beleived the extreme hype with which GW's then top management was pushing for Relenza.

Of course the companies that are marketing the antiflu drugs are benefiting substntantially from the fears over a bird flu epidemic!

Permalink to Comment

4. Drew on September 27, 2005 5:07 PM writes...

Having a drug ready to go into animals is akin to saying you have a computer that can play chess- there is shareware, and then there is Deep Blue. Similar, yet very, very different!

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5. Jeff Bonwick on September 28, 2005 8:17 AM writes...

So what's going on with antivirals, anyway? Acyclovir was (is) a brilliant drug based on a brilliant idea -- 50 years ago! I'm amazed that there hasn't been more progress in nucleoside analogues. They can be structured to fool only the viral DNA polymerase, so you've got a good shot at low toxicity with a highly conserved target. Why hasn't this been a gold mine?

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6. Merideth Carleton on May 17, 2006 1:21 PM writes...

Have you seen this before? It's a number guessing game: I guessed 86752, and it got it right! Pretty neat.

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7. JOHNSON OKOJI on June 8, 2006 6:00 AM writes...

Cher Monsieur,
Je suis un indigène de village du nord Bénin (Perma), dans la République du Bénin, dans le bureau principal en Afrique de l'Ouest. Nous sommes au Bénin tandis que nous avons des branches en Guinée. Je vous contact au nom de mes aînés de la communauté du village qui comporte principalement des mineurs locaux. Nous les représentons pour rechercher des acheteurs éventuels pour la majeure partie d'or extraite localement dans de la communauté. Nous sommes une communauté de développement du delta du Niger qui travaillons avec les guinéens.

Nous vous faisons une offre générale de ce métal en poudre d'un stock disponible actuellement au Bénin et la grande partie en Guinée dont les caractéristiques sont les suivants :

* Produit : Métal ( AU ) Aluvial Gold en poudre
* Origine : BENIN / GUINEE
* Quantité : Sur commande du client
* Qualité : 24 Carats
* Taux de pureté : 96 %
* Prix par kilo : 8.000 USD/KG

J'espère avoir un rapport à long terme d'affaires avec vous. J'espères également avoir de vos nouvelles le plus bientôt pour plus de détails.

Merci de votre coopération prévue,
Bien à vous,

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Antivirals "Gathering Dust"?:

Avian Flu Update V from Sierra Faith
Drugs and Money appear to be the topic now.... [Read More]

Tracked on October 15, 2005 2:12 PM


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