350 new biotech drugs

Max More (maxmore@primenet.com)
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 10:24:49 -0700


350 new biotechnology drugs reportedly being developed

Copyright 1998 Nando.net
Copyright 1998 Reuters News Service

WASHINGTON (April 10, 1998 10:25 a.m. EDT http://www.nando.net) - More than
300 different biotechnology medicines, including vaccines against cancer
and drugs to treat a whole range of diseases, are in development, U.S. drug
makers said Friday.

Nearly half the drugs in development, 151 out of 350, are meant to fight
cancer, the annual report by Pharmaceutical Research and and Manufacturers
of America (PhRMA) found.

It said 140 different pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies were
working on the drugs.

"This is a whole new era that we are moving into, and people aren't even
noticing," Dr. John Siegfried, deputy vice president for science and
regulatory affairs at PhRMA, said in a telephone interview.

"It's an incredibly exciting time to see disease begin to be attacked at
the genetic level, at the chromosome level. My god, when I started to
practice, that was unheard of. It was Buck Rogers stuff, and now it's
happening."

Biotechnology medicines in development include a flu vaccine being
developed by Protein Sciences of Meriden, Connecticut, Chiron Corp's
Proleukin skin cancer drug and Biomira Inc's cancer vaccine.

Proleukin, already licensed for treating renal cell cancer that has spread
throughout the body, is a genetically engineered version of interleukin-2
(IL-2), a naturally occurring immune system signaling chemical.

It stimulates the body to destroy abnormal cancer cells.

Biomira's vaccine alerts the body's immune system to the presence of MUC-1,
a protein found on the surface of 90 percent of common solid tumors
including breast, ovarian and lung cancer. It is being tested in non-small
cell lung cancer, of which there are an estimated 149,000 new cases in
North America each year, killing 133,000 people.

"We used to think that vaccines were only for diphtheria, pertussis for
kids. and all of a sudden you have tons of vaccines for cancer, as a
preventive in AIDS," said Siegfried.

The whole point of biotechnology is to tweak the body's own defenses,
Siegfried said.

"If you look at it holistically, that's really what the body's been doing
all along anyway," he said.

The road ahead is not all rosy, PhRMA warns. For instance, patent battles
loom, such as a fight over who owns the rights to the BRCA1 and BRCA2
breast cancer genes and a lawsuit over genetically altered seeds that
Mycogen Plant Sciences lost against Monsanto in February.

"Patent protection is really the basis of our industry and my guess is if
there is a conflict in patents, which is almost inevitable in the genetic
business, they are going to be very hard fought," Siegfried said.

There were also ethical issues, he said.

"The whole concept of messing around with genes -- people may say 'I don't
want to do it but if you tell me that messing around with his genes will
save my son then I am going to want to do it'," he said.

There were plenty of new targets to choose from, the report, which lists
all 350 new medicines, said. With an estimated 100,000 genes in the human
body, and new ones being mapped daily, companies had their work laid out.

"The modern tools of biotechnology, coupled with computer technology's
ability to analyze massive amounts of data quickly -- help scientists
determine which genes or proteins are defective," it said.

"We can accomplish in the lab now in a couple of hours what used to take a
year," Siegfried said.

By Maggie Fox, Reuters Health and Science Correspondent