Affordable medicine: New developments in the pharmaceutical research
Every improvement adds to the price – a rule that until today has applied unvaryingly to new developments in the health care system. But now the laboratories of life scientists have set off a revolution that not only promises considerable ease in the treatment of patients or the search for new medicines, but will also enhance their cost effectiveness. Three companies at the Adlershof Environmental Technology Centre ZBU1 were at the head of the field for this development.
“So called personalised medicine aims to tailor treatment to the needs of the patient,” explained Holger Eickhoff, chair of the Scienion AG board. “And that of course needs a large number of examinations. ”What otherwise would have involved drawing litres of blood from patients and consuming large quantities of reagents is now to find its demise in microarrays, prefabricated plates with hundreds of fine pits containing chemicals for the examination. The examined liquid and other reagents are then added automatically by special machines. What makes this solution so special are the droplets: Containing only a few billionths of a litre, they are the size of dust particles and just about visible to the naked eye.
“The method was actually developed for research,” confessed Holger Eickhoff. “We are the only company in the world that provides the technology to product these arrays on the assembly line.” It is this mass production that will first help to lower the price to about ten cents per examination point – and so make this method an interesting solution for medical diagnoses.
Scienion also produces the high precision devices that charge the microarrays with nano droplets during the examination. The particularly ingenious technology behind these systems earned the company the 2004 Berlin-Brandenburg Innovation Award.
Also a world first is the method offered by the company caprotec GmbH founded just four years ago. This method can test the side effects of a potential medicine, without animal experiments and in a very short time. “The characteristic features of side effects are that not every patient manifests them, and that they are often caused by unstable chemical interactions,” explained Christian Jurinke, head of product management.
“That makes it so difficult to examine them in the laboratory.” Here caprotec uses a trick: The molecules of the tested medicine are expanded with special, patented molecules. This gives rise to a so called capture compound that can now be thrown into a whole pool of different proteins, each responsible for a specific bodily function. Molecules of medicine combining with the wrong protein could give rise to side effects later in the patient. “Even when this combination is only very weak, our capture compound keeps it pasted together, so to speak,” explained Jurinke: Under UV irradiation, the complex forms a permanent bond with the protein. Now “captured”, it can then be separated easily out of the solution and identified. A joint project with the pharmaceuticals company Hoffmann – La Roche proved the success of the method in practice.
“Also our location here at the ZBU led to a joint project,” explained Christian Jurinke. Together with the company JPT Peptide Technologies GmbH in the same building, caprotec developed a number of capture compounds specifically for so called peptides, protein building blocks known for instance as tumour markers in diagnostics. Here the capture compounds can give basic research new insights into the interactions of key cell constituents.
by Wolfgang Richter