But finding a protein’s gene often was a painstaking enterprise that took years of effort. So, HGS and other genomics companies decided to reverse the process by decoding human DNA on a massive scale. They then could fish out genes and work forward, biochemically speaking, to discover new proteins that are involved in disease processes.
It’s a rapid-fire approach that William Haseltine, HGS’ CEO, has long said would produce a new pharmacopeia. Starting last year, the company began making good on the promise, introducing several candidates into early-stage human clinical trials, including proteins for protecting bone-marrow cells in chemotherapy patients and for facilitating wound healing.
The technology is also identifying hormones and enzymes that conventional drugs can target. Genomics is responsible for more than half the therapeutic targets that pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb in Princeton, N.J., now has in its sights, according to director of science and technology Ron Peppin.
A costly, uncertain road lies ahead before any blockbuster with an HGS logo appears on pharmacy shelves, however. Less than one-quarter of drugs pan out in clinical trials, a process that can easily cost more than $100 million and last a decade.