How drug development is like your diet

May 19, 2016 Erin Righetti


If you’re like me, you read the dailies. Companies run the gamut from riding high and plump on investment infusion to rock hard abs times when they’re all muscle and no fat, and, possibly back again. With summer coming, it occurred to me that drug development cycles are very much like dieting, and the lessons learned at each phase are strikingly similar.



Sometimes it starts with a trip to the beach or gym, other times it’s a glance in the mirror or an old photo of how you used to look. You know you could do better. You can and will do better. And with a gleam in your eye and a spring in your step you cut up your veggies and pack your workout clothes and you are all fitness, all day long.


Take the idea for the humble proteasome, born over beer in a hotel bar as reported in STAT News, being developed by Arvinas as the basis of a new, revolutionary approach to treating “undruggable” cancers. The idea is to use the proteasome’s natural ability to destroy proteins the cell no longer needs to “hijack that machinery to treat diseases.” Lofty dreams, indeed, but dreams that are inspired are within reach.



You’re starting to see results, and you like it. Your enthusiasm is infectious. You’re a guru, an expert on fat and carbs, you share recipes. You create recipes. Your co-workers start emailing you for tips.


Look at the news this week about Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. and their immunotherapeutic vaccines that target cancer and infectious diseases. They’re hot and they know it. According to Streetwise Reports, the company “has enough cash in the coffers to fund its ‘broadening pipeline’ through the end of 2017.” More specifically, Inovio reported USD 8.1 million (USD 8.1M) in total revenues and USD 146.8M of cash and equivalent for Q1/16 earnings, and the fervor over their viral disease pipeline shows no signs of letting up. Unrelenting effort combined with a positive outlook can and does lead to success.


Lean and mean

Running on empty but you’re as fit as you’ve ever been. You don’t even need sleep anymore. Food is for wimps. You’re all muscle and a 10K finisher. You could go on like this forever, right?


Jon Keevil, the founder of HealthDecision, is in the weight room every day. His company is developing new patient tools to empower shared decision making in the emergency room, where time can quickly overwrite information. His software collects patient input and syncs medical records in real time to determine treatment paths. According to Xconomy, Keevil says HealthDecision plans to “raise USD 250,000, mostly from colleagues, by selling a 10 percent stake in the company” and he is already more than halfway there. “Novel” isn’t the only path to success; sometimes you just have to add muscle to a good framework.


On top of the world

You’re fit and pumped, but your joints ache and your workouts just don’t have the zest they once did. You miss your friends. But you’re still on a high note and buying protein powder by the gallon. You’re the best you’ve ever been, but you’re at the gym every night. Something’s gotta give.


BioPharmaDIVE reported that Celgene and biotech Agios Pharmaceuticals are creating a new global strategic collaboration focused on metabolic immuno-oncology. This will expand their existing partnership and refocus on discovery and innovation of novel therapies that impact the metabolic state of immune cells, with Agios’ upfront cash payment of USD 200 million plus the potential for additional milestone payments. As part of the deal, Celgene will hand back global rights to AML drug AG-120, and two cancer metabolism programs (AG-221 and AG-881) will fold into the new structure. To grow, you have to successfully determine what to cut, what to keep.



At first you still showed up but spent more time at the juice bar than on the weights. Then it turned into a skipped workout here, a dinner out there. Pretty soon it’s been six weeks and you’re up two sizes and lethargic. What happened?


Baxalta knows. Just a few months after they plumped out their staff and moved into Kendall Square, Shire came a-calling to the sound of USD 32 million. Baxalta gave in but the pending acquisition by Shire has cast a pall on the existing workforce whose futures with the company are up in the air. According to STAT News, “Shire has said the combined company will save $500 million in the first three years of its existence—which means it will part with $500 million of salaries, benefits, and building leases.” The acquisition seems to have grown stale, with Shire waffling on plans for whether or not to  keep it intact. In this business, the only certainty is change, it’s all part of the game, so better to adjust than burn out completely.



Somehow three months have passed and you’ve put on 15 pounds.


Take the recent objections by several large drug makers to the below-list pricing by certain nonprofits for their multiple myeloma treatments, which is influencing coverage decisions made by insurers. The story in STAT News gives a good overview on both positions. The nonprofits say prices are unjustified. Drug makers say there are complex considerations in setting prices. Everyone is unhappy. Just because you’re in denial doesn’t mean that there isn’t a massive growing problem. Time for a fresh and open-minded conversation.


Reality Check

Disgusted with yourself, you finally pull yourself up off the couch and decide today’s the day. Time to hit the gym again and get back on the workouts before all progress is lost. This time you’ll add a new routine, and maybe a workout partner. You need a true assessment. And have you let it go too far to get it back?


Time to reevaluate your losses and step back up. There are big hurdles, sure, but you have to start somewhere. To begin, you have to take that first step.


A worthy effort

With a little motivation, a good plan and a consistent effort, you’re more likely to meet your summer fitness goals. You’re bound to cycle through the various stages, but the point is not to give up. In other words, if the 30-day cleanse didn’t work, try the meal replacement. Just don’t give up the ship. It’s a worthy cause.


Need a fitness consultant? Try BioPharm America™ 2016 this September in Boston. The event will bring together novel companies and startups from the US, Europe and Asia. You will meet more key decision makers in three days than you could in one year. How’s that for a jump start?


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