Recently, PayPal CEO Peter Thiel touched on the decline in cutting edge medical research. In “Outsmarting Cancer: A biologist talks about what makes disease-causing proteins so difficult to target with drugs” (Scientific American, October 14, 2011 online), Francie Diep introduces us to Brent Stockwell at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who explains a critical current challenge in cancer treatment:
There really is a crisis now occurring in the pharmaceutical industry. For the past 10 to 15 years the number of new drugs has been declining because it’s becoming harder and harder to create new medicines.
Because many disease-causing proteins are “undruggable,”
Proteins that are considered undruggable don’t have large pockets or cavities inside them and instead are relatively flat on their surfaces. There’s no obvious site for a small molecule, a therapeutic candidate, to interact. Fifteen percent of proteins are considered druggable. … Most proteins that drive disease processes are actually undruggable.
Which is why progress will depend mainly on outsmarting the proteins with new strategies.
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