The Need for Innovation in Drug Discovery
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The Need for Innovation in Drug Discovery

By Darryl McConnell, SVP, Research Site Head Austria, Boehringer Ingelheim

Darryl McConnell, SVP, Research Site Head Austria, Boehringer IngelheimDarryl McConnell, SVP, Research Site Head Austria, Boehringer Ingelheim

Drug discovery and development is a prolonged, complex and costly process, constantly accompanied by the high degree of uncertainty whether a drug will succeed. The journey of drug discovery begins with the search for insights into diseases. From this, flow ideas about how a disease could be stopped or even reversed. It then becomes an iterative process of searching for the right drug molecule and learning more about the disease itself. Drug discovery takes 1 in 100 projects to be successful and around 15 years from start to finish. Clearly, new technologies and new approaches are needed to reach the “high hanging fruits” such as the so-called “undruggable targets” and to accelerate the path to drug approval.

The Need to Innovate

Drug discovery is like exploration; every day we have to decide which way to go to come closer to discovering a breakthrough medicine for patients. The challenge is equally, the ability to choose the right direction and to realise quickly when a wrong turn has been taken. Researchers need the courage to explore the unexplored and the appetite to innovate but also the ability to continually question the choices they have made. The “undruggable” cancer targets are an example of unexplored space in drug discovery which has great potential for patients. RAS, P53, MYC and beta-Catenin are proteins found in the human body, and when mutated, cause more than half of all cancers. Drugging these targets is an immensely difficult undertaking but the value to patients if we succeed, will be equally large. Starting each project with an understanding of what the patient needs is key to success and we should encourage young entrepreneurs and researchers to think this way. Discovering a path to deliver a breakthrough therapy to patients is arguably one of the most challenging of human endeavours and this journey starts and ends with the patient.

Technology in Drug Discovery and Development

A lot has changed within the industry in the past ten years. New science and technologies are constantly emerging, some of which change the game. The rate of adoption of these game-changing technologies is becoming so fast that you need to be an early adopter to gather the expertise to be able to apply the technology and be competitive. With pharmaceutical drug discovery companies evolving to data-centric companies, artificial intelligence (AI) based tools are being applied across drug discovery and development. AI promises to be the next game changer.

Capability to Learn

One of the key challenges of drug discovery that is rarely talked about is the ability to learn. The organisations that continuously learn will be the best drug hunters and deliver the most value to patients. Learning doesn’t need to be limited to experimentation it can also be done at the drawing board. Many scientists seek confirmation from others regarding how good their ideas are. By asking others why their idea is bad, flaws can be identified before expensive experimentation is needed. Learning together in real-time is key to innovating.

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