Review Article | Published:

Drug development in the era of precision medicine

Nature Reviews Drug Discovery volume 17, pages 183196 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

For the past three decades, the use of genomics to inform drug discovery and development pipelines has generated both excitement and scepticism. Although earlier efforts successfully identified some new drug targets, the overall clinical efficacy of developed drugs has remained unimpressive, owing in large part to the heterogeneous causes of disease. Recent technological and analytical advances in genomics, however, have now made it possible to rapidly identify and interpret the genetic variation underlying a single patient's disease, thereby providing a window into patient-specific mechanisms that cause or contribute to disease, which could ultimately enable the 'precise' targeting of these mechanisms. Here, we first examine and highlight the successes and limitations of the earlier phases of genomics in drug discovery and development. We then review the current major efforts in precision medicine and discuss the potential broader utility of mechanistically guided treatments going forward.

Key points

  • Prior efforts using genomics to inform drug discovery (that is, expressed sequencing tag profiling and genome-wide association studies) have yielded an array of potential targets but have encountered difficulty in translating these discoveries into clinically efficacious drugs.

  • Precision medicine marks a new relationship between genomics and drug discovery, one that provides both insights into the mechanisms and potential treatment options of a single patient's disease.

  • Oncology has been the leader in the field of precision medicine, with a multitude of successful examples of targeted treatments and immunotherapies available for a wide range of cancers.

  • Precision therapies for Mendelian diseases, such as those that replace deficient proteins, directly target the dysfunctional protein or disease-associated pathway or influence expression of disease-relevant genes, and are clinically available for a number of conditions, such as lysosomal storage disorders, cystic fibrosis, tuberous sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy.

  • With various reliable model systems and a multitude of drug screening platforms, epilepsy is well positioned to serve as a model for precision medicine in highly genetic conditions.

  • Although it is currently uncertain how generalizable genomic precision medicine approaches will be for all diseases, we imagine that some therapeutics that were developed for defined genetic conditions will also be efficacious in individuals with mechanistically related disease that do not necessarily carry the same genetic drivers.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank J. Carulli, M. Lalioti and C. Bostick for their valuable feedback on this manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Institute for Genomic Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, Hammer Health Sciences, 1408, 701 West 168th Street, New York, New York 10032, USA.

    • Sarah A. Dugger
    •  & David B. Goldstein
  2. Department of Genetics & Development, Columbia University Medical Center, Hammer Health Sciences, 1602, 701 West 168th Street, New York, New York 10032, USA.

    • Sarah A. Dugger
    •  & David B. Goldstein
  3. AstraZeneca Centre for Genomics Research, Precision Medicine and Genomics, IMED Biotech Unit, AstraZeneca, 1 Francis Crick Avenue, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge CB2 0AA, UK.

    • Adam Platt
    •  & David B. Goldstein

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Competing interests

D.G. is a founder of and holds equity in Pairnomix and Praxis, serves as a consultant to AstraZeneca and has received research support from Janssen, Gilead, Biogen, AstraZeneca and UCB. A.P. is a paid employee of and holds stock in AstraZeneca.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David B. Goldstein.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nrd.2017.226