Inside Salk; Salk Insitute

Insider's View

William Brody

Faster cures come from faster discoveries

The first decade of the 21st century witnessed a dramatic drop in the number of new drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decline that some attribute to more stringent requirements imposed by the FDA. While this observation may be partly correct, the fact is that the beginning of the millennium was a watershed for drug development. This was in large part thanks to rapid advances taking place in basic science laboratories, such as those at the Salk Institute.

As scientists discovered specific drug targets, usually genes or proteins that ran amok in disease states such as cancer or diabetes, pharmaceutical and biotech companies began to rely less on the traditional shotgun approach to finding new treatments. Instead they focused on taking advantage of the explosion of information coming from basic science laboratories. With better intelligence in hand, they could more predictably target the errant molecule with a chemical or antibody.

As many of these precision therapeutics now make their way through the pipeline, I believe we will see a wealth of new drugs that have amazingly powerful results. A number of them will be used to treat diseases for which good therapies are lacking, such as lung cancer, melanoma and autoimmune disorders. The ability to treat these difficult diseases will have a tremendous impact on people's health and on society.

At Salk, we are ramping up to help usher in this new era of targeted drugs. The recent grant to create the Helmsley Center for Genomic Medicine is greatly enhancing our ability to conduct interdisciplinary research that helps identify the genetic basis for chronic diseases across the spectrum, from diabetes to cancer to neurologic disorders to diseases of aging. The center will look for common threads that may underpin a number of seemingly unrelated chronic diseases. Perhaps equally exciting, these new tools for finding targets allow Salk scientists to participate in the translation of their discoveries into clinical treatments on a much greater scale than was heretofore possible.

The Helmsley Center will speed the pace of basic research, which is crucial to Salk's mission. That's because faster discoveries beget faster cures—and cures change lives.