How long does it take to develop a new life-saving drug? How much money? How is it done?
As eight SciTech members found out on their visit to the Cambridge research offices of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, the answers to all of the questions are surprising. Developing new therapies takes longer than you think, is more expensive than you think, and the method all depends on what disease it is that you're trying to fight.
The group learned about the eight main divisions of Novartis research:
We learned, for example, that the first organ transplant, and all organ transplants since that time, have used a drug patterned on the first Novartis breakthrough medicine that suppressed organ rejection in the bodies of recipients.
The group learned that there are many pathways to drug development. Some work by inhibiting a key enzyme, ACE inhibitors, for example, block the creation of ACE in the body, preventing it from narrowing blood vessels in the body - this drug is used to treat heart disease, migraines and high blood pressure, to name a few. Other drugs block ion channels - Novacaine, for instance, blocks the ability of the brain to process pain signals.
A recently developed therapy sounds like science fiction, but is actually science fact. As John said, "I really enjoyed learning how they have figured out how to use a gutted HIV cell to fight cancer." Amazingly, researchers designed a protein that have the ability to fight a particular type of cancer, B-acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As John described, researchers used a modified HIV virus to program the immune system of a patient to produce T-Cells carrying this specific protein. The first patient to receive this therapy was a young girl named Emily Whitehead, who was then five years old. You can read about Emily and her recovery on her webpage - she is now twelve years old, and completely cancer-free as the result of her one treatment.
Casey, Ian, Dante, Arty, John, Brendan, Eamon and Jack worked to identify the amount of protein in a sample using a colorimeter, which measures the wavelength shift in a sample that contains a certain protein. Protein work comprises a big part of the research that Novartis does in its research - it makes sense - everything is made from them!