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    March 6, 2023

    Drug Discovery Industry Roundup with Barry Bunin — March 6, 2023

    Barry Bunin, PhD Founder & CEO Collaborative Drug Discovery Barry Bunin, PhD
    Founder & CEO
    Collaborative Drug Discovery

    Drug Discovery Industry Roundup with Barry Bunin

    Lab Space…In Outer Space. Stem cell researchers at the University of California San Diego are building upon zero-gravity work they have been conducting on NASA's International Space Station (ISS) with the announced formation of a new Astrobiotechnology Hub, which brings together academic, industry and government partners to drive scientific and commercial innovation in stem cell research. Why do stem cell research in space? UC San Diego Today reports that when astronaut Scott Kelly returned from a year-long trip aboard the ISS, his body had grown two inches taller, but his cells appeared decades older. Lab tests revealed numerous molecular changes to his blood cells, including damaged DNA, shortened telomeres, and inflammation - all signs of rapid aging and precursors to cancer. Researchers are using space as an 'aging accelerator.' The studies will help scientists and clinicians to potentially better understand stem cell aging and cancer without having to rely on lengthy and expensive clinical trials monitoring Earthbound humans as they age or develop disease in real time. Corinne Peek-Asa, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC San Diego says: "The next thriving ecosystem of stem cell companies will be 250 miles overhead."


      * * *

    The front page cover story of The Economist shouts "Eat, inject, repeat:  New drugs could spell an end to the world's obesity epidemic." I've always appreciated the Economist writers' ability to emphasize the key take-home points given current trends.  I also like how they often use famous song lyrics as subtitles in articles - it is creative and helps with retention.  The current big trend is with historical obesity drugs being essentially snake oil, now there are treatments that seem to work (20% weight loss being stastically significant, especially if long-term side effects are minimal…which we'll see over the long-term.  The Economist begin intriguingly with:

    "A new type of drug is generating excitement among the rich and the beautiful. Just a jab a week, and the weight falls off. Elon Musk swears by it; influencers sing its praises on TikTok; suddenly slimmer Hollywood starlets deny they have taken it. But the latest weight-loss drugs are no mere cosmetic enhancements. Their biggest beneficiaries will be not celebrities in Los Angeles or Miami but billions of ordinary people around the world whose weight has made them unhealthy.

    Treatments for weight loss have long ranged from the well-meaning and ineffective to the downright dodgy. The new class of drugs, called glp-1 receptor agonists, seems actually to work. Semaglutide, developed by Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical firm, has been shown in clinical trials to lead to weight loss of about 15%. It is already being sold under the brand name Wegovy in America, Denmark and Norway and will soon be available in other countries; Ozempic, a lower-dose version, is a diabetes drug that is also being used "off label" for weight loss. A rival glp-1 drug, made by Eli Lilly, an American firm, is due to come on sale later this year and is more effective still. Analysts think the market for glp-1 drugs could reach $150bn by 2031, not far off the market for cancer drugs today. Some think they could become as common as beta blockers or statins."


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    "Ozempic Runs Low for Diabetes Patients as Weight-Loss Use Surges." That headline from The Wall Street Journal underscores the frustration many diabetics are facing as pharmacies are deluged with non-diabetic customers bearing off-label prescriptions for weight loss. "The clock is ticking to preserve kidney and heart health, and the longer patients are without these therapies, the more risks they are accruing," says Dr. Katherine R. Tuttle, Executive Director for Research at Providence Medical Research Center in Spokane, Wash., who treats diabetes patients and has switched some of them to alternatives to Ozempic. The article notes Ozempic was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 to treat Type 2 diabetes, not obesity in people who don't have diabetes. Studies have found Ozempic can help control high blood-sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart problems in people with diabetes. The article quotes a patient with Type 2 diabetes as saying: "I certainly understand how people struggle with weight and need to find something that works. I just think that people who really need it to survive shouldn't have to sacrifice it for weight."

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    What Happens When You Stop Taking Ozempic?  That question is posed in the headline of a recent New York Times article, which found that the answer is appetite and lost pounds come rushing back. Ozempic and Wegovy both contain semaglutide, which regulates blood sugar and insulin. It also reduces appetite and causes the stomach to empty more slowly, so that a person feels fuller faster. The article quotes physicians who have seen patients who go off either drug quickly regain lost weight as they face what some call a "ravenous" appetite. Dr. Andrew Kraftson, Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Diabetes at Michigan Medicine, says "I've seen people and they've lost maybe 50 pounds, and then they're off of it for a month and then I see them back in clinic and they've gained 20 pounds."

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    "Origami Vaccines Fold Up to Fight Cancer." That's the intriguing headline from Drug Discovery News, about self-assembling DNA and RNA origami vaccines that hold vaccine components in precise numbers and arrangements to help the immune system attack tumors. The article explains that DNA origami vaccines are single-stranded pieces of DNA folded onto themselves or held together with short complementary DNA sequences. These DNA strands can self-assemble into an elegant three-dimensional nanostructure. Using computer programs, scientists design DNA origami structures with precise folds and often attach molecules onto them - like vaccine antigens and adjuvants - in specific numbers and arrangements. Due to their small size, immune cells easily take up these origami nanostructures, making them an ideal vaccine delivery vessel. The technology uses a pH dependent confirmation change following endocytosis to open the genetic material directly within specific tissues of interest (i.e. in lymph nodes with dendritic cells). They show it works with DNA and RNA. The article quotes Yang (Claire) Zeng, a cancer immunologist and bioengineer at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University as saying, "DNA origami is like a plug and play kind of platform. You can swap out the antigen to tailor it to different cancers or swap out the antigen to tailor it to infectious disease."


    Barry A. Bunin, PhD, is the Founder & CEO of Collaborative Drug Discovery, which provides a modern approach to drug discovery research informatics trusted globally by thousands of leading researchers. The CDD Vault is a hosted biological and chemical database that securely manages your private and external data.

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