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Pharma Dives into PGx, Roche Acquires 454 Life Sciences, and Microbiome Studies Make Their Debut

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Ten years ago, Genome Technology looked into the pharmaceutical industry's plan to use genomic approaches to refine drug discovery efforts. GT spoke with George Poste, former president of R&D and chief science and technology officer for SmithKline Beecham, who was then a consultant for pharmaceutical companies wishing to integrate genomics into drug discovery. Poste told GT that "genomics has totally revolutionized discovery and the validation of targets for discovery."

But not everyone was convinced. William Haseltine, then CEO of Human Genome Sciences, scoffed at the idea that genomics could help pharmaceutical companies refine drugs for specific populations of patients. Pharmas "can barely develop one drug for one disease," he told GT. "The idea that you can rescue a drug that has adverse effects on a subset of the population is fanciful."

The past 10 years have shown, however, that genomic approaches can help drug companies create treatments for subsets of patient populations. Pfizer recently developed a drug called Xalkori, specifically targeted at a small population of non-small-cell lung cancer patients. And in March, Genentech teamed up with 23andMe to determine whether there is a specific group of breast cancer patients that best responds to its drug Avastin.

In May 2007, GT reported that Roche acquired 454 Life Sciences in a deal valued at $154.9 million. "Our strategic intent was getting access to sequencing, and nothing else," said Manfred Baier, who was head of Roche Applied Sciences at the time.

Roche appears to be continuing its quest for access to sequencing. This past January, the company made a bid for Illumina, which was rejected. Roche made another offer in April. Illumina again rejected the takeover bid, saying Roche had undervalued the company.

Last year, GT spoke with human microbiome researchers who were looking to bring their work into the clinic. Initiatives like the Human Microbiome Project have enabled widespread sequencing of microbial genomes and metagenomes from several body sites, they said. But researchers who spoke at the International Human Microbiome Congress held in Paris in March sounded a note of caution about overhyping the microbiome's clinical utility. University of California, Davis' Jonathan Eisen said he worried microbiome research could suffer if it doesn't produce clinically actionable results in short order.

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