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Drug Industry Seeks Tests to Spot Side Effect Risks

7 pharmaceutical giants are pooling resources to develop gene-based screens

THURSDAY, Sept. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Seven major pharmaceutical companies are banding together to develop genetic tests that predict which patients will have adverse side effects from drugs.

The group, a nonprofit organization dubbed the International Serious Adverse Events Consortium (SAEC), will conduct two studies, one to look at drug-related liver toxicity and the other aimed at a rare drug-related skin condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

"SAEC's focus is to identify and to validate DNA variance or genetic markers that are useful in predicting a drug-induced serious adverse event," Arthur Holden, the chairman of the group, said during a midmorning teleconference Thursday.

The findings of the consortium could have an impact on improving the ability of patients to safely use existing drugs, Holden added. "We hope it will improve the productivity and effectiveness not only for those who develop drugs but for those who regulate drug development," he said.

"The immediate goal would be to develop a test that could identify who will have a problem with a drug before they get it," said Dr. Paul Watkins, director of the General Clinical Research Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "The ultimate goal is to look at the genes that are causing the susceptibility and work back to figure out how we can design drugs differently so that no one would have that problem," he added.

"The two drug reactions that are being studied, Stevens-Johnson and liver toxicity, are very common reasons for problems with drugs either being restricted, not being developed, not being approved or being pulled off the market," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"This effort is part of personalized medicine -- personalized safety -- that will make treatments safer by understanding individual benefits and risks," she added. "This will help in the development of drugs both in avoiding these side effects in the future and maybe developing tests to help identify people at high risk," she said.

Findings from these studies could lead to the FDA requiring genetic tests to determine risk before the drug is prescribed, Woodcock added.

A recent survey found that most Americans are more concerned with drug safety than with speeding more medications to the marketplace.

Members of the consortium include Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C., Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis and Wyeth. In addition, the FDA will consult on the design and conduct of SAEC studies.

The actual research will be done at academic centers in Europe and the United States.

The results of the studies will be made public domain, and none of the companies will have early access or be allowed to patent the findings. When the results are made public, any company can develop and sell the genetic tests that predict side effects.

SAEC is one of several consortiums formed by the pharmaceutical industry to conduct basic research. One of the first was started in 1999 and was headed by Holden. That consortium looked for DNA variations among people. Their data were also put into the public domain.

More information

For more on drug safety and side effects, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: Sept. 27, 2007, teleconference with Janet Woodcock, M.D., deputy commissioner and chief medical officer, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Arthur Holden, chairman, International Serious Adverse Events Consortium; and Paul Watkins, M.D., Verne S. Caviness Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Professor of Pharmacotherapy, and Director, General Clinical Research Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Sept. 27, 2007, International Serious Adverse Events Consortium, press statement

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