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Harvard Medical School launches major initiative to address crisis in drug development
Date:10/17/2011

Boston, MA (Oct. 17, 2011)Taking aim at the alarming slowdown in the development of new and lifesaving drugs, Harvard Medical School is launching an Initiative in Systems Pharmacology, a comprehensive strategy to transform drug discovery by convening biologists, chemists, pharmacologists, physicists, computer scientists and clinicians to explore together how drugs work in complex systems.

"With this Initiative in Systems Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School is reframing classical pharmacology and marshaling its unparalleled intellectual resources to take a novel approach to an urgent problem," said Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard University, "one that has never been tried either in industry or academia."

Modern drug discovery has focused on the interaction between a candidate drug and its immediate cellular target. That target is part of a vast and complex biological network, but because studying the drug in the context of a living system is profoundly difficult, scientists have largely avoided this approach.

As a result, predicting the effects of a particular candidate drug in humans is currently all but impossible, and many initially promising drugs have been found to lack efficacy or to have unsupportable levels of toxicitytypically at a late stage of a clinical trial, at a cost of years of effort and up to $1 billion.

"Right now in the world of drug discovery, it's as if we have a map of a highway system that only contains small pieces extending a few miles here and there, without any connectivity on a large scale," said Marc Kirschner, the John Franklin Enders University Professor of Systems Biology and chairman of the HMS Department of Systems Biology. "If you try to plan a trip on such fragmentary information, you'll fail. It's our inability to develop a coherent picture that has stymied drug discovery for so long."

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Contact: David Cameron
david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0441
Harvard Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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