Taking aim at the alarming slowdown in the development of new and lifesaving drugs, Harvard Medical School (HMS) is launching the Initiative in Systems Pharmacology, a comprehensive strategy to transform drug discovery by convening biologists, chemists, pharmacologists, physicists, computer scientists, and clinicians to explore together how drugs work in complex systems.
"With this Initiative in Systems Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School is reframing classical pharmacology and marshaling its unparalleled intellectual resources to take a novel approach to an urgent problem," said Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the faculty of medicine at Harvard University," one that has never been tried either in industry or academia."
Modern drug discovery has focused on the interaction between a candidate drug and its immediate cellular target. That target is part of a vast and complex biological network, but because studying the drug in the context of a living system is profoundly difficult, scientists have largely avoided this approach.
As a result, predicting the effects of a particular candidate drug in humans is currently all but impossible, and many initially promising drugs have been found to lack efficacy or to have unsupportable levels of toxicity - typically at a late stage of a clinical trial, at a cost of years of effort and up to $1 billion.