MD Anderson’s big strength is, and always has been, clinical care – treating patients who have cancer.
But to do that, you need new cancer drugs. And the problem is that fewer and fewer cancer drugs are coming to market. Dr. DePinho says that’s why the hospital is creating the Institute for Applied Cancer Science.
“Pharmaceutical companies have downsized their internal research programs. Biotechnology companies, which serve as the pipeline from academia to large Pharma, are under significant stress due to the economic crisis.”
Now MD Anderson will be doing more of what pharmaceutical companies used to do — conduct basic research to find new cancer drugs and then shepherd the drugs through the early stages of testing.
To do this, MD Anderson is recruiting 55 scientists from the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston. That’s where DePinho came from, and where he started a similar institute seven years ago.
Governor Rick Perry says this will allow Houston to compete with bio-tech hubs such as Boston and Silicon Valley.
“We’re creating a culture that will help ensure that great ideas that are born in Texas — will stay in Texas. From the laboratory to the marketplace. And then we will export them around the world.”
Cancer drug trials have a low success rate — only 5 to 10 percent of the drugs ever make it to market. That’s part of the reason why pharmaceutical companies have gotten discouraged.
But there’s good news too. Scientists have learned a lot recently about the genetic defects behind different types of cancer. That knowledge could lead to new and better types of drugs. Again, DePinho:
“We’ve been playing in a sandbox of only about five percent of the known cancer genes to date. There’s an enormously large number of genes that have just been unfolded as a result of the genome project and what the institute wants to do is to courageously and ambitiously go after that space so we can develop new drugs against targets that have just now come to light.”
MD Anderson will contribute up to $75 million dollars over five years to get the institute up and running.
But the scientists will eventually have to raise their own money through grants, philanthropy and collaborations with private drug companies.
If the institute does produce new drugs, MD Anderson would have a share in the profits.