IT Use for Drug Discovery to Rise

Informatics research breakthroughs are becoming commonplace in the life sciences at universities and research institutes around the globe, but much of pharmaceutical company research is far less reliant on information technology. Traditionally, major pharmaceutical firms have conducted the vast majority of drug research by tinkering with the chemical structure of molecules and then observing their effect on living cells and organisms.

Now informatics, including bioinformatics, cheminformatics, and in-silico modeling, is enabling scientists to approach this process more systematically, and it is becoming increasingly integrated into drug discovery.

Bioinformatics—a set of enabling technologies responsible for the annotation, storage, analysis and retrieval of nucleic acid sequence, protein sequence and structural information—allows scientists to start connecting the observation of disease states and treatments to the genetic basis of disease.

Over the past few years, major advances in the field of molecular biology and the availability of advanced equipment to carry out rapid sequencing of large portions of genomes of several species have led to explosive growth in the area of biological information.

Already, bioinformatics content, software, services and hardware add up to more than $1 billion in global revenue annually, according to emerging technology market research firm Business Communications Co. Inc. And it expects that total to almost triple to about $3 billion by the end of the decade.

Content, mostly in the form of specialized databases on microarrays, ESTs, SNPs and so on, represents most of the bioinformatics industry. Currently estimated at $717 million, the content market is expected to almost double to $1.4 billion by 2010.

Analysis software and services are anticipated to be the fastest growing market in bioinformatics, primarily driven by the need for improved and sophisticated tools for analyzing and using biological data for developing therapeutic drugs. The segment is estimated to grow at an average annual rate of 21 percent from $445 million in 2005 to $1.2 billion in 2010.

Growth of the bioinformatics market is primarily attributed to its increased usage in the pharmaceutical industry. The application of bioinformatics in drug discovery and development is expected to reduce the annual cost of developing a new drug by 33 percent, and the time taken for drug discovery by 30 percent.

Pharmaceutical companies are expected to increase their R&D expenditure in the future. Total global drug discovery spending is estimated to increase from $19.6 billion in 2002 to $25.1 billion in 2006. A major portion of this R&D spending is expected to go into informatics.

Last year, pharmaceutical companies spent about $775 million on informatics for drug development, according to market research firm Kalorama Information. That’s expected to exceed $1 billion by 2008. Information management hardware and systems account for about half of this spending and are expected to continue to do so.

Bioinformatics and cheminformatics, tools for molecular databases, conformational searching, homology modeling, HT screening analysis and structural determinations, each represent a little more than one-fifth of the drug discovery informatics market.

The fastest growing segment, in-silico modeling, is also the smallest and most controversial. In-silico modeling allows for the testing of compounds through computer programs simulating the reaction of cells and organisms. This eliminates significant laboratory work and expense, but the efficacy of the technology remains controversial.

“Researchers are divided on the usefulness of in-silico approaches,” notes Kalorama research analyst Jack Gardner. “Naysayers point to the spotty results of the current models, but proponents note that the tools can provide fast results, which are extremely cost-effective especially for decision support in target validation and binding.”

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