Our take: Maine lab shows pharma companies how to fail

Pharmaceutical companies exploring new drugs can come to Maine if they want to fail – and not just fail, but fail quickly.

That’s MDI Bioscience’s sales pitch, and it only sounds weird if you forget about all the dead ends researchers go through before they can bring a new drug to patients.

MDI Bioscience is an initiative of Maine’s MDI Biological Laboratory, a 124-year-old research institute on Mount Desert Island. Through the use of non-mammalian animal models such as zebrafish and the transparent roundworms known as C. elegans, companies can achieve faster answers, including eliminating what won’t work before time. and money from being spent on more expensive preclinical studies. trials.

A quick failure should speed up the process of developing new drugs and lower prescription drug prices, which have been a major driver of health care costs.

“For every 5,000 drugs discovered, only one comes to market,” said James S. Strickland, who was in charge of the project last month. He said the lab “can better inform early decision-making in drug discovery, so there’s a greater likelihood that drugs will be successful in the future – that the right drug will be developed and receive the good priority”.

Strickland and MDI Biological Laboratory president Dr. Herman Haller recently visited the editorial board to talk about their work, which they say is perhaps better known outside of the state than it is. east in Maine.

Like Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, MDI is a non-university research institute. It has attracted scientists from around the world to study limb and kidney regeneration and attempt to develop an “instruction manual” by decoding the signals the bodies of salamanders and fish send when they need spare parts. .

Although that may seem far-fetched, Haller, who is also chairman of the division of nephrology at Hannover Medical School in Germany, said recent findings and new technologies suggest that the day we might see a kidney to grow from a stem cell transplant patient’s own kidney is only about ten years away.

The institution is funded largely by grants from the National Institutes of Health, which support its 11 research groups. Visiting scientists working on regenerative medicine also use the facility, as do high school through graduate students. Thousands of Mainers have had their first taste of biomedical research at the state-of-the-art facility working with some of the leaders in the field.

Over the past two years, the COVID pandemic has dramatically changed people’s views on the work they do, and that includes biomedical research work.

The catastrophic level of deaths and disrupted lives is undeniable, but scientists say there are also reasons for hope. We were able to produce several effective vaccines and have them in trials in less than a year after the discovery of the new virus.

While we likely won’t see pharmaceutical companies and regulators give up on anything less than a global pandemic, the COVID experience has changed expectations about how long it will take for a new drug to be developed and approved for use. .

What was once considered a 10 to 15 year project, Haller said, can now be expected in three to five years.

And this is where quick failure comes in. If scientists like those at MDI can identify dead ends early in the process, then other researchers can focus on the most promising potential treatments. With a well-resourced Food and Drug Administration, this can give pandemic attention to drugs for other killers like heart disease and cancer, allowing new drugs to reach market faster and cheaper than anyone else. didn’t think it possible.

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