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Drug industry need to find new business model says a specialist

Oliver Rey / Red Dirt Report
Assistant professor Adam Duerfeldt talking about drugs industry evolution
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NORMAN, Okla. – Science Cafe Norman invited Adam Duerfeldt, a multi-awarded Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry to talk on the evolution of drugs industry on Nov. 2, at the Norman Public Library Central.

Duerfeldt said the drug discovery has progressed very fast during the last centuries due to intense observation, communication and the ability to isolate and extract the active ingredient. One example discussed by Duerfeldt is the isolation of the morphine from opium by Friedrich Sertürnerin 1815. The capacity to isolate the active component led to the revolution of the drug industry.

“Morphine, wherever you like it or not has been one of the most influential drugs in the treatment of pain. And now it was one of the most influential drugs in the treatment of addiction” Duerfeldt said. “As soon you were able to isolate the active ingredient then all the pharmacies turned into labs.”

A revolution that will soon be joined by the discovery of selective dye staining of cells and the side chain theory by Paul Ehrlich in the late 1800s. Last stone to the edifice of the modern drugs industry is the discovery and isolation of penicillin in September 1928 by Alexander Fleming will mark the start of modern antibiotics.

“Now we are thinking about ridding of the things that are causing some our infections,” he said.

Although pharmaceutical industry evolution has been fast during the last decades Duerfeldt said it takes today up to 16 years to make and valid a new drug into the market, costing up to three billion dollars, saying, “This is how pharmaceutical companies justify their prices.”

He added cost increased dramatically in recent years due to growing regulations.

“It gets more and more difficult to get compounds to clinical trials but it is also more and more difficult to come up with new chemical entities or new drugs to treat diseases,” Duerfeldt said.

Concerning the preclinical test made on animals such as mice, pigs and monkeys, Duerfeldt said there is no other option available for now.

Then Duerfeldt talked about one of its current project, the development of antibiotics by “developing new molecules that activate bacterial proteases or two-component signaling pathways.”

“This is completely different than any other drug that has been put on the market,” Duerfeldt said.

One of the main problems encountered by antibiotics today is they don’t kill only bad bacteria but also the good ones. Making it possible for some bad bacteria such as the famous Clostridium difficile to develop in human bodies. Clostridium difficile causes colitis which does not respond to antibiotics often resulting in death. 

Illness from C. difficile appears principally in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. Profile type of people who are infected are often old, but also injured military who have to do a lot of surgery.

“What is even scarier, it that every single therapy that we have to kill this bug is now becoming obsolete,” he said, adding the Clostridium difficile is now infecting people who didn’t use antibiotics.

Data from 2015, shows that over half a million people were infected in one year, and almost 30,000 died for a total of five billion dollars. Duerfeldt pointed out that these numbers have doubled in only two years.

“I think this is something we have to pay attention immediately, this is one of the major projects in our lab,” he said.

The second main project of Duerfeldt’s laboratory in collaboration with OU Health Science is to develop new treatments to address diabetic retinopathy that is inexistent today. The diabetic retinopathy is responsible for 12 percent of all new cases of blindness in the USA.

At the end of his talk, Assistant professor Duerfeldt also said that it becomes more difficult to be funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Diseases is not going away,” he said. “Write the congressmen, call the congressmen and plead them to continue fund scientific research.”

Duerfeldt believes that the actual situation of drugs research is not sustainable in the long term and that new approaches should be considered. One of them is called “open innovation” platform where various scientific groups work in collaboration for new discovery. He though open innovation need to be adapted to protect better scientist’s patents.

“We need a new business model,” Duerfeldt said to Red Dirt Report.

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Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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