Biomarkers Come of Age - Pharmaceutical Executive


Biomarkers Come of Age
In the past five years, biomarkers have become an essential part of pharmaceutical R&D. Seven industry experts explain how it happened—and what comes next.

Pharmaceutical Executive

The use of biomarkers early in the process sets up the hypothesis and potentially advances the timeline for later trials. If biomarker data is to be available for regulatory submission, use of biomarkers in Phase IIa/IIb is critical. Companies currently using biomarkers in Phase IIa/IIb–Phase III are better positioned to advance than their counterparts. Thus, this approach becomes a key portfolio decision step.

Various companies are organizing their biomarker efforts in different ways:

Novartis is one industry leader in its embrace of biomarker technology. Four years ago, the company instituted a safety assessment biomarker program at the preclinical stage of compound development to reduce failures in clinical trials. Two years ago, Novartis made an R&D commitment to implement biomarkers from discovery through Phase IV, putting this global line function in place under the responsibility of Jacky Vonderscher, PhD, vice president and global head of biomarker development.

Stephen Williams
In the past two years, the company hired new personnel in key executive positions to ensure biomarker plans and programs are consistently in place to impact the attrition rate of compounds early, accelerate proof-of-concept trials, and define clinical safety and efficacy biomarkers early in the process.

At Eli Lilly, "The key goal is to improve technical success for our molecules in clinical development," explains Eiry Roberts, MD, vice president, project/program medical. This process translates into an active reduction in uncertainty around key technical risk factors (for example, toxicology, clinical dose selection, exposure/response, and so forth), and shifts the attrition curve to earlier in the process across the portfolio.

Biomarker strategies in support of new compounds help to optimize the portfolio, not the individual molecule. At present, the focus is on early-stage development, when discovery teams are asked to develop biomarker tools to assess drug activity, safety, and efficacy in the clinic.

"As compounds move from discovery to validation, the biomarker strategy is implemented," explains Brian Edmonds, PhD, principal research scientist at Lilly. "As each compound passes the go/no-go decision, the biomarker strategy is brought forward on a case-by-case basis for compounds that receive a 'go.'"

Bristol-Myers Squibb initially created separate groups for clinical biomarker technologies but found the model to be ineffective. One year ago, the company fully integrated clinical biomarker personnel into the drug development process, making them part of therapeutic-area teams and enabling them to gain a robust understanding of the area by consistently working with the same group.

Biomarker strategies for each compound are developed early in the drug development process. The clinical discovery group (from Phase I to proof of concept) is responsible for implementing the clinical biomarker strategy. These changes are beginning to show signs of success.

"The key is to gain therapeutic area consensus around what we are/are not doing. By putting biomarkers into the routine development processes, organizational consensus on priorities and goals are gained, as is consistency in decision making," says Nicholas Dracopoli, PhD, vice president for clinical discovery technology.

Pfizer global research and development organizes its biomarker effort vertically, according to Stephen Williams, PhD, MD, the company's executive director and worldwide head of global clinical technology platforms, who supports all therapeutic areas. The company has developed biomarker best practices in research and development, which cover the plan, properties/use, tolerability of risk, performance, and minimally acceptable criteria for performance.


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