Enabling a Comeback in Ion Channel Drug Discovery
Automated medium- and high-throughput ion channel screening systems promise to jump start the search for ion channel modulating drugs, a vast and promising area of drug discovery. In Vivo Europe Rx looks at Sophion Bioscience, Nanion Technologies, and Xention Discovery, three emerging European firms whose platforms may help return ion channels to the forefront of biotech and pharmaceutical companies' discovery targets.
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Lectus was founded in December 2002, to develop and commercialize a second generation of ion channel modulating drugs. By targeting the plethora of accessory proteins that regulate the activity of the ion channel pore-forming proteins rather than the pore-forming proteins themselves Lectus believes its drugs will be safer and more effective than currently marketed products.
Thanks to a disappointing set of sales numbers and a relatively small upfront fee from its new partner on the recently launched anti-cancer drug, Velcade, investors are once again wondering whether Millennium really has figured out how to be a commercial operation, not a discovery company. But in fact the deal it signed with Johnson & Johnson's Ortho Biotech unit-for ex-US marketing of Velcade is one of several recent signals that the company has focused itself firmly on the new valuation metrics: real earnings growth. The deal structure flies in the face of the most common measures of deal value, and could be as revolutionary in its implications as Millennium's discovery deals had been.
Historically ion channels have been among the most attractive targets for therapeutic intervention. But discovery of new ion channel drugs has come to a halt because ion channels are difficult to assay, require specialized tools and skills to study adequately, and have historically been impossible to study directly in high-throughput mode-the preferred style of the last decade. Now, a variety of automated assay technologies are coming on the market that should increase throughput, and some drug discovery companies have developed proprietary high-throughput methods for in-house use. With industry now interested more than ever in applying higher-throughput technologies to precedented targets, in a sense, ion channel discovery may become a beneficiary of the failures of genomics, combinatorial chemistry, and high-throughput screening.