FDA Chief Says Houston Could Be Biotech Pioneer

Calling the current advances in biomedical science a "molecular metamorphosis," the acting chief of the Food and Drug Administration says Houston could play a key role in the future of biotechnology. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach spent more than two decades in various roles at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center before taking over as the chief of the National Cancer Institute in 2002. He was named acting commissioner of the FDA in September of 2005 and was the keynote speaker at BioHouston's annual meeting. He says biomedical science could someday lead to what he calls "personalized medicine".

"The molecular metamorphosis in health care provides us an opportunity to begin to think about medicine in which we will provide the right drug to the right patient for the right reason delivered at the right time to get the predictable right outcome and in fact use those tools to also be able to monitor and modulate the outcome of that intervention in that patient over time."

Houston is currrently home to 115 biotech companies, with around 4700 employees. Texas is third in the nation in biotech research and development funding, with two-thirds of that money spent in the Houston region. But it still lags behind in the commercialization of that research. Dr. von Eschenbach says Houston has a real opportunity to be a pioneer.

"There were place and there were individuals who were identified with the strategic inflection 100 years ago like Los Alamos and others. And there are places that will be indentified with us being able to eliminate the outcome of diseases like cancer and I believe Houston has the potential and will be one of those extraordinary places."

Biotechnology has made great strides in developing and perfecting medications and treatments that hold great promise for fighting cancer and other diseases. von Eschenbach says the FDA must change to match the rapid developments in biomedical science.

"The FDA of the past will not suffice for the opportunties of the future and so one of the committment that we must make is to change, to begin to move the agency in allignment with the new reality that is emerging by virtue of the discovery and the develpment of these new interventions."

von Eschenbach says biotechnology is not an evolution in medicine, but a revolution that couldn't have been envisioned even just a few years ago.

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