Purdue could cash in on drug discovery

Drug Discovery

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Purdue University is giving its drug discovery program more money and attention than ever before. The drug discovery program has the potential to not only benefit faculty and students, but also make the school money.

Designing a drug, developing it and having it approved for use is a long and expensive process, often taking years and hundreds of millions of dollars. However, the payoff for a successful drug is both financially and academically enormous.

“These are areas of such importance that if great breakthroughs occurred, they literally would change the world and change lives,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

Drug discovery involves a blend of chemistry, biology and many other sciences. It’s the first step in a drug’s journey from inception to use in patients. Purdue’s program isn’t new, but lately the school has been pouring more resources into this area.

Later this year, a $28 million drug discovery building will open on Purdue’s campus. On March 13, Purdue announced a partnership with Houston Methodist Hospital whereby drugs designed at Purdue will be developed further by the hospital’s research team.

Purdue’s research has had early success with cancer drugs, especially those that treat ovarian and lung cancer. Houston Methodist has experience developing all kinds of drugs and will help Purdue broaden its drug design portfolio.

Though the agreement will increase the number of Purdue’s drug development partners, the discovery and design process is still very difficult.

“I come up with an idea and I assign it to a graduate student or a post-doc and they explore,” said Philip Low, the director of Purdue’s drug discovery center. “And to be honest with you, I expect that most of my ideas are going to fail.”

Low said only about 10 to 20 percent of his ideas make it to the next stage. Then only a handful of those drugs make it into clinical trials, he added.

Though Low and his team at the center design the drugs, he does not own their patents.

“Everything that’s discovered in my laboratory is patented by Purdue University,” Low said.

Drugs that are eventually approved for use and released to the market have massive business potential. For example, Vynfinit, or Vintafolide, is a drug designed to treat ovarian and lung cancer. It was patented by Purdue after Low discovered it more than two decades ago.

However, the patent expired after 20 years and the drug is now owned by Endocyte Inc., a lab and publicly-traded company based in the Purdue Research Park. Low is chief science officer and co-founder. Drug-giant Merck saw potential for Vynfinit and made an investment that could reach $1 billion.

Though the drug has not been approved for use by any regulatory body, a recent recommendation in Europe shows the drug has promise. Investors agreed and sent Endocyte’s stock price up 92 percent on March 21, the day the recommendation was announced.

Low also hopes the drug discovery center’s success will give Purdue a notoriety in this field.

“There’s a reputation that comes with having discovered and developed a new drug,” Low said. “It establishes Purdue as one of the preeminent universities in the country.”

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