Interview with: Torsten Hoffmann, Head Discovery Chemistry, F. Hoffmann – La Roche
Drug discovery scientists need to broaden their approaches to pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) and Medicinal Chemistry, to take advantage of untapped opportunities, says Torsten Hoffmann, Head Discovery Chemistry at F. Hoffmann – La Roche, Basel, Switzerland. Chemical Biology allows room for innovation, but is often overlooked by scientists in the industry. A speaker at the marcus evans Discovery Summit 2011 in Cannes, France, 21 - 23 March, Hoffmann highlights the key areas for potential growth and innovation in drug discovery.
What would it take to boost innovation in drug discovery?
Torsten Hoffmann: Pharmaceutical R&D has remained too narrow in its approaches. We need to broaden our way of working, especially in the field of Chemical Biology where there are many untapped opportunities. We have to start investing into and exploring Chemical Biology approaches in much greater detail. Having said that, there is also a need for a different reward and recognition scheme to encourage innovation in drug discovery. The attrition based model has failed, and to take it one step further, we must reward truly innovative approaches and scientists who have taken risks.
What are the areas within Chemical Biology that are worth following?
Torsten Hoffmann: One area is certainly the delivery of non-permeable molecules and macromolecules into cytoplasm and into the cell nucleus. What we would have to explore here are active and passive transport mechanisms, endo- or transcytosis, artificial viruses, and cell penetrating peptide motives. This would also enable therapeutic siRNA applications in their broadest sense.
The second example I would like to give is about molecules that can regulate gene expression, where we have to investigate molecules that target messenger RNA, ribosomal RNA or transfer RNA as drug targets. What we would be looking for is the alteration of gene transcription in the nucleus, as well as the gene translation in the initiation, elongation and termination phase of the protein biosynthesis.
A third scheme in my view is the area of Regenerative Medicine - if we had molecules that could direct cellular self-renewal, pluripotency, and stem cell differentiation, we could repair organs by the use of tailored small molecule therapies.
What long-term strategies would you recommend to drug discovery scientists?
Torsten Hoffmann: We should set up small teams of intrinsically motivated scientists, that can reach across boundaries and that are rewarded for innovation.
As an industry, we have to be open to breakthroughs from academia, and invest in collaborative models where we can take innovative and exploratory research from Chemical Biology, team up, and internalise such projects. Bringing together knowledge from different groups will help the industry to achieve so much more.
Sarin Kouyoumdjian-Gurunlian, Press Manager, marcus evans, Summits Division