By Roger Schenck, manager, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Content Planning Department
Well before the term “Big Data” was coined, scientists grappled with how to manage the explosion of discoveries producing a plethora of information about newly discovered biological entities. This accelerated information growth about cellular activities and disease pathways could not have been imagined 60 years ago when James Watson and Francis Crick elucidated and published their seminal work on the double helical nature of DNA. This escalation in genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic information is reflected in the increasing records in scientific databases worldwide.
Today’s medicinal chemists and molecular and cell biologists often rely on sophisticated computer-based resources to assess a therapeutic area and to more efficiently interpret and analyze large volumes of information, so they can get back to the laboratory more quickly.
THE VALUE OF PARTNERSHIPS, DATABASES
New molecular entities that are biopharmaceuticals, versus small organic molecule therapeutics, are estimated to comprise more than 30 percent of the 5,000 potential therapeutics currently in research and development. Like their pharmaceutical colleagues, biotech companies deciding to pursue the treatment of a disease commit huge sums of capital that will be invested over the lifetime of a project. Before making a financial commitment like this, it is vital to know as much as possible about the intended project. Is the disease pathway known? Are there any validated targets in that pathway? Is anyone else solving or working on the problem? What does the patent landscape look like? Can any existing therapies be improved? In the rarified atmosphere of the boardroom, the answers to these questions, which are almost never straightforward, must be determined before a company decides to invest between $1.5 and $4 billion, Burrill & Company’s estimated cost to bring a new therapeutic entity to market. To help control the cost of this investment and to move as quickly as possible through all aspects of development and eventually clinical trials, biotechs have sought outside help with aspects of the project where they may have limited inhouse experience. Development partners with a targeted expertise can aid in controlling development costs and in moving a promising therapy to market more quickly.
In addition to establishing strategic partnerships, using large, scientific, electronic databases can provide background and insights into what has been accomplished and what hasn’t worked yet regarding a particular drug. These databases also can help with ferreting out unpromising candidates early, intensifying efforts on candidates promising the greatest impact, and collaborating with external partners possessing specific expertise that could help the drug discovery process move faster and ultimately control costs.
REMEMBER TO INVESTIGATE PATENTS, TOO
As commercial organizations and academic institutions worldwide seek to monetize their research results, patents have become an increasingly important part of the world’s published scientific information. According to the American Chemical Society, in 2012, more than 70 percent of newly recognized substances came from patents, compared to about 14 percent in the mid-1970s. Furthermore, the Asia-Pacific countries, led by China, are currently responsible for the huge patent growth worldwide.
At the inception of a project, discovery scientists using large scientific databases can find information about what has been patented and who else is investigating in the same area.
Advanced scientific search technology also enables a scientist to quickly view all other therapeutic indications and their literature references that a particular drug is correlated with (e.g. antiviral, antitumor and dermatological agents, analgesics, immunosuppressants). Additionally, the protein targets that the drug may inhibit that have been reported in the publicly disclosed literature are also easily available.
Considering Big Data includes the wealth of biological and chemical information available to the biotech industry today, the problem of easy access to that information has been mostly solved. The challenge in today’s information-laden world is separating the reliable material from the simply available. At the beginning of a biopharmaceutical project, access to large, curated scientific databases using electronic search and discovery tools will provide a thorough picture of the research landscape and help scientists efficiently plan and synthesize new ideas and collaborations.