Protein Research Attracts Medical Firms
In the wake of recent human genome findings, protein research has "lur[ed] huge investments" from large medical companies, such as
Abbott Laboratories and Baxter International Inc., in the "race" to develop genetically engineered drugs and diagnostic tests, the Chicago Tribune reports. Scientists and researchers argue that research and development of proteins, which are produced by active genes, will prove the "real key to unlocking the potential" of human genome studies. "Now that we have the genome, the lists of genes, we have the lists of all the proteins," Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, chief scientific officer and head of drug development at Abbott, said, adding, "The proteins are the doers. They are the receptors, the enzymes and targets for the vast majority of drugs." Abbott and Baxter have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on research, development and building facilities to "capitalize" on genomics research. Two months ago, Abbott agreed to spend $6.9 billion on BASF AG's Knoll Pharmaceutical unit, which has several "promising" proteins in development at a biotechnology facility in Worcester, Mass. Abbott also plans to build a second biotech facility in Silicon Valley focusing on cardiology research. "We already have hundreds of proteins in our diagnostics and therapeutics areas. But we have only exploited a small portion of the list," Leiden added. Baxter has about 12 therapeutic proteins in development, but the medical products "giant" already has "demonstrated the potential" of one successful genetically engineered product, raking in more than $500 million per year from the blood-clotting drug Recombinate, which is developed from a human protein. "Everyone knew from the beginning that the ultimate answer would not be in the genes, but proteins expressed in those genes," Norbert Riedel, president of Baxter's California-based Hyland Immuno recombinant business, said. Baxter's bioscience business has become the company's "fastest-growing enterprise," with Q4 sales climbing 15% from a year earlier to $690 million.
Meanwhile, smaller biotechnology companies also hope to "carve their own niche" in a business where firms may spend more than $100 million to develop one therapy. By developing tools for other companies to use in drug development, small biotech firms can use genomic research "outside of protein research."
According to Vysis Inc. CEO John Bishop, "A product can cost several million dollars to get to market, but that is still within reach of smaller biotech companies like ours." Still, health care analysts point out that smaller biotech companies that lack capital face a "formidable hurdle" when competing with larger firms. "Not every health care company can do recombinant products because the manufacturing process is very intense," Sarah Ross, a health care services analyst with St. Louis-based Edward Jones, said, adding, "Every new (manufacturing) suite and facility has got to go through the whole approval process" (Japsen/Manor, Chicago Tribune, 2/15).