ATP Helps Develop Technology to Design Protein-specific Drugs
|| CuraGen Corporation, Branford, CT
American Home Products Corporation, Pearl River, NY
Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA
Duration and Cost:
funding amount: $2.4 M
- Industry cost-share amount: $3.6 M
Report of the Completed Project:
CuraGen, then a 4 year-old Yale-based startup, and its joint venture partner American Home Products (which eventually became a part of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals), proposed to identify methods that would enhance the total throughput for drug screening and reduce the cost and time to develop new drugs. The social benefits were self-evident: new drug therapies could be approved more quickly that save lives and increases the quality of life. However, the innovative protein screening approach was very early-stage and had a higher technical risk profile than venture capitalists could bear.
Many human diseases can be linked to abnormalities caused by poorly functioning proteins or abnormalities that cause the overproduction or underproduction of proteins. Most drugs are therefore engineered to target proteins in an attempt to correct such abnormalities. At the time of the ATP project in 1994, there were no methods to screen protein libraries for interaction with potential drug targets, nor were there any real methods of understanding how the different molecular units of each protein would individually react to a target drug application. These are just a few reasons why drug development is so expensive (up to $800 million per drug) and time-consuming (between 10-15 years from initial research to final FDA approval).
and Economic Impacts
Together with scientists at Penn State, CuraGen and American Home Products were able to successfully develop tools that screen multiple proteins simultaneously. Important achievements include:
- A bioinformatics software package, PathCalling™, capable of high-throughput screening to identify genes whose protein products interact with each other.
- A software tool, HitCalling™, that screens the proteins associated with genes identified by PathCalling™ against small-molecule libraries.
The significance of these tools created many benefits for researchers:
- The tools could sample 10 to 100 proteins at a time, rather than just 1 at a time (while searching through a library of millions of other proteins for interactions).
- The tools could reduce the false-positive rate which reduced gene sequencing costs by a factor of 10.
This work resulted in over fifteen (15) patents, numerous presentations and publications and enabled CuraGen to attract additional funding and expand its operations. Most notably
- CuraGen launched a $34.5 million initial public offering (IPO) in 1998, primarily due to the success of their HitCalling™ and PathCalling™ tools.
- CuraGen grew from 25 employees at the start of the project to over 450 as of 2006.
- CuraGen grew revenues to over $20 million in 2006.
- CuraGen spun out an entirely new company, 454 Life Sciences.
- CuraGen has collaborated with firms including Abgenix, Biogen, Genetech Seattle Genetics, and Bayer to improve their drug development process.
Moreover, CuraGen is using HitCalling™ and PathCalling™ to identify targets and drug candidates for its own drug discovery and development programs. CuraGen has many products in clinical trials, including:
- A novel protein therapeutic for the treatment of oral mucositis (a complication of chemotherapy) with a “Fast Track” designation from the FDA.
- A histone deacetylase inhibitor, which has shown effectiveness to treat solid and hematological cancers. This is currently in a Phase 2 trial for the treatment of multiple myeloma and is being developed in collaboration with another company, TopoTarget A/S.
- An antibody for kidney inflammation is in Phase 1 trials.
- Another antibody drug candidate for metastatic melanoma is in Phase 1 trials.
Date created: October 27, 2006
October 30, 2006