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September 28, 2012
EMBL Chemical Biology: Progress in Oncology
This evening's EMBL speaker is Paul Workman on new cancer targets and drug development. He's pointed out that treating cancer (and classifying cancer) by where it's located in the body is actually fairly primitive. Tumor cells in, say, breast cancer surely have more in common with various other type of tumor cells than they do with the normal cells surrounding them.
He claims that we're starting to see attrition rates come down in oncology, and I hope he's right. I see, though, that he's reified the "Valley of Death", which I'm not so sure about. There surely are some ideas in academia that should be moved along to development, but not all of them are worthy. (That's no slur - not all the targets inside the drug companies are worthy either, believe me). I worry that constant referral to a Valley of Death makes it sound as if there's something mysterious going on, when it really doesn't seem that strange to me. This Valley is mostly a gap between what works and what doesn't, rather than between academia and industry.
He also has a good slide on probe compounds versus drugs (here are the details). Probes, he says, need to meet even more stringent criteria for selectivity and potency than drugs do if their purpose is going to be to uncover new biology. Selectivity is usually the hardest barrier. That said, probes have to evolve. You don't find compounds like this right out of an HTS screen, and they're going to need some cycles of med-chem before they're truly ready for use. A less-than-optimal probe shouldn't be seen as a failure, but as an intermediate step.
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