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Companies Work to Create Safer, More Effective Drugs

Posted - Dec. 29, 2004 at 9:09 a.m.



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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reporting Amidst all the criticism hitting the FDA, consumers may not realize there is no such thing as a perfectly safe drug. That's why Bay Area companies are working on a new approach to create safer, more effective ones.

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars each year to create the next big blockbuster. However, recent news about Vioxx and Celebrex, antidepressants in children, even hormone replacement therapy, raises an important concern.

The "one size fits all" drug just doesn't fit. Drugs simply just don't work for everybody.

An estimated forty percent of all drugs that we take every day are not effective. That means millions of people are exposed to potentially harmful side effects while receiving little or no benefit.

A new approach is already changing how drugs are created. It's an approach that saved Jane Lee's life.

Jane Lee/ Breast Cancer Survivor: "I think it's going to be the answer to managing the disease."

The answer is this: instead of creating a single medication, how about creating a medication that fits your genetic uniqueness? In other words, a medication that fits your type?

Dr. David Cox: "It's like being a matchmaker. It's like being a Yenta. You get the people that the drug works on."

Dr. David Cox is chief scientist at Perlegen Sciences in Mountain View -- a biotech company that scans human dna to pave the way for new drugs. He says if you look at people all over the world, ninety-nine point nine percent of their dna is identical.

The differences are so tiny, they lead to only about four to five types. Dr. Cox says that means there may be only four to five different ways people get disease. So, why not tailor treatment to match those four to five differences?

Dr. Cox: "The concept is it's not one size fits all. It's not individually tailored for every single patient, every single person their own thing. But it's more an intermediate mix of which of the five possibilities works best for you."

For Jane Lee, she's here today thanks to this kind of thinking. Six years ago, she tried a revolutionary breast cancer drug after previous treatments failed. The drug - herceptin - targets a particular molecule found on the surface of breast cancer cells.

But only one in five women with breast cancer have this type of tumor, so the drug only works for them.

Critics were skeptical herceptin would be a blockbuster. But it is, and not just for Genentech.

Jane Lee: "The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes."

Jane gets a dose of herceptin every three weeks, and suffers from no severe side effects. That's an added benefit of this individualized approach.

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