Jim Wells: Helping to Fill the Drug Discovery Pipeline

By UCSF Today | October 27, 2006

Cancer, diabetes, inflammation, malaria. The list of diseases ripe for new treatments is long. Yet the pace of drugs coming to market is actually flat.

A key reason is the drug discovery process itself, says Jim Wells, director of the Small Molecule Discovery Center (SMDC) at the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research, or QB3, at UCSF's Mission Bay campus. It takes about $1 billion and 10 years to discover, develop and get approval for a new drug, Wells says.

The high failure rate all along the discovery and development pathway has prompted pharmaceutical companies to focus on the relatively few proteins in the body that can be targeted by blockbuster drugs to treat the most common ailments -- drugs that can generate millions of prescriptions and hundreds of millions of dollars in sales a year. Think cholesterol-busting statins and pills for allergies, sleeping or erectile dysfunction.

Drug Discovery
That leaves a pretty dry pipeline of new drugs to treat many of the world's most devastating diseases. One way to get more new compounds all the way from the laboratory to the medicine cabinet is refining the screening process.

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