After more than 20 years as a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry, Anthony Altar decided to align himself with what he considers to be the future of drug discovery: biomarkers. Altar recently joined up with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health as director of the Biomarkers Consortium, a group of public and private partners set on identifying biomarkers to accelerate personalized medicine.
“The Biomarkers Consortium gives me an opportunity to play a major role in a very important new set of initiatives that are going to have a major impact on health in the next several decades,” Altar says. “Biomarkers are one way to get us to this point of having drug treatments that are tailored more to the individual rather than an entire population.”
Prior to his new position, the longtime drug development veteran was chief scientific officer at Psychiatric Genomics, where helped to develop a new antipsychotic that was approved by the FDA in 2002. But it was the opportunity to become involved in genomic research and to utilize all of its related technologies that helped motivate Altar to make the jump. “I have my own background in genetics and genomics as applied to neuroscience and therapeutics areas,” he says. “But with our consortium, we have projects involving the newest technologies like genomics and proteomics that are going to help identify new markers for all these other therapeutics areas, so scientifically, it’s a great challenge.”
As director, Altar says he aims to make the consortium widely known in both academia and industry as the go-to point for accomplishing quality biomarker research. Down the road, he hopes that the consortium will develop surrogate end points, or biomarkers that have received confirmation in multiple clinical trials. These can be either a response to make the patient better or a safety end point response that can tell researchers which paths are not worth pursuing. “I think it is going to lead the way to personalized medicine that we’ve heard so much about,” Altar says. “This is not an area that’s going to go away anytime soon. This is going to grow.”