There was a lot to comment on today and I like having the blog format to do so. Two items worth mentioning for groupies of biotech, let me start with Avalon and maybe touch on Celera tomorrow.
For Avalon, we have another GenEngNews commentary on Drug Discovery (audio). This one is called 'Taking the Risk out of Clinical Development' and is an interview with Kenneth Carter (formerly of HGSI), now CEO of Avalon Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: AVRX) . Avalon is a promising (aren't they all) biotech microcap with a single drug in clinical trials.
Avalon has a platform based on using microarrays to probe cellular changes during drug screenings. This sounds worthwhile and more of it should be done, but...what to look for is a question. His commentary and explanation of the companies platform are worthwhile for the curious. Currently microarrays are used widely in drug discovery, but a primary purpose is as a toxicity screen. You really want to know early if those 'first responder' genes are being upregulated when a cell sees your drug - if you see it dial 911, send it back to the chemists and cancel that planned Phase I trial.
Few drugs (any?) upregulate genes, but certainly there is value in seeing what isn't upregulated (and normally would be) after a stress when drug is present. Certainly there are things to be learned. Avalon is using the technique to find drugs that alter pathways and processes, not necessarily find traditional single protein target tight binders. They avoid the idustry buzzword 'Systems Biology', perhaps there is the stigma of empty promise in that phrase, but this is largely what they are doing. My own opinion is that a microarray isn't enough information. You need a high content proteasome and metabolite spread as well to really see changes in what's happening in the cell. Good first step though.
The platform may intrigue big pharma enough to do some deals which could move the stock in the coming year. Hard to know whether to simply treat the company as a CRO or as a partner (no doubt Avalon would prefer the latter, and the big boys the former).
Perhaps the future of drug discovery will be multiple high-content screens - not for target binders but for the alteration of broad cellular processes - but I don't think we are there yet (we will be in my lifetime). For now the industry paradigm is locked into target based drug screening. That is the fastball of drug development, but it's nice to see some knuckle ball pitchers playing the game as well.
I wouldn't presume to say that an investment in Avalon would allow you to 'Retire like a King', but the company could make an interesting contest entry for next year. Hmmm......