Plenge Lab
Date posted: July 28, 2016 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Drug Discovery

I know it may seem strange that I am commenting on my own commentary. While writing the Science Translational Medicine (STM) article (here, here), I wanted to focus on a clear vision for improving R&D productivity via integrating human biology, therapeutic modulation, pharmacodynamics biomarkers, and proof-of-concept clinical trials (see Figure 1 of the manuscript, also above). Too often, these four key concepts get lost amongst the many steps in drug development.  I won’t revisit these concepts here, as I encourage you to read the article itself.

However, there is much more to R&D productivity than just these four concepts, and the purpose of this blog is to broaden the perspective piece a bit.

[Disclaimer: I am a Merck/MSD employee. The opinions I am expressing are my own and do not necessarily represent the position of my employer.]

1. Drug discovery should always start with the patient. Every drug discovery journey must begin with a clear definition of the unmet medical need. As a former practicing rheumatologist, I always try to keep in mind the questions that a patient would ask me: “Why did I develop this disease?” “Will I respond to this medication?” “What is my prognosis?” “Will I ever be cured?“

These questions are also important in the context of the translational medicine model proposed in the STM article.…

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Date posted: July 24, 2016 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Drug Discovery Embedded Genomics

Here are my thoughts on the Discussion Paper by Bernard H. Munos and John J. Orloff, “Disruptive Innovation and Transformation of the Drug Discovery and Development Enterprise” (download pdf here). This blog won’t make much sense if read out-of-context. Thus, I recommend reading the Discussion Paper itself, and using this blog as a companion guide at the completion of each section.

[Disclaimer: I am a Merck/MSD employee. The opinions I am expressing are my own and do not necessarily represent the position of my employer.]


In the near-term (10-years), I suspect that the pharma model of late development and commercialization will likely persist, as the cost and complexity of getting a drug approved is difficult by other mechanisms. Over time, however, new ways of performing late-stage trials will likely evolve. Drugs that are today in the early R&D pipeline will drive this evolution. If drugs look like they do today, dominated by small molecules and biologics with high probability of failure in Phase II/III, then the current model will likely continue with incremental improvements in efficiency. However, if new therapeutic modalities emerge (CRISPR, mRNA, microbiome, etc) and/or the probability of success in Phase II/III improves substantially, then the model of late development and commercialization will be forced to evolve, too.…

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Date posted: January 19, 2015 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Human Genetics

Recently I was asked by the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) to provide my perspective on career and professional development in genetics (see here). At about the same time, I read the book “How Google Works”, by Google Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Products Jonathan Rosenberg. A very creative slide deck accompanies the book, which is definitely worth a few minutes of your time (here).

Both got me thinking about opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry for genetic graduate students. Here are a few thoughts based on the outline from the Google slide deck.

What is different now?

In human genetics, large-scale genotyping and sequencing is unlocking the inherited basis of most complex and rare traits in the ideal model organism, humans. This is very different than it was just a few years ago. But there is more: this is happening at a scale that will not likely stop until most humans on the planet have their genome sequenced. Like the “Internet of things”, there will soon be a “Genomes of things”, in which our genomes will be connected to all sorts of data – electronic health records, wearable technology, portable blood monitoring, etc.…

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Date posted: August 18, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Drug Discovery Human Genetics

A key learning from my time in academia was the value of collaborations. Much of my most enjoyable and productive research was conducted in collaboration with fellow scientists across the globe.

I am pleased to report that industry is no different.  After one year working for Merck, I have found that in addition to collaborations across the company ties with external scientific experts focused on advancing programs of interest are actively encouraged.

It is heartening to see how some recent progress in several notable drug development programs is leading to increased excitement around the application of human genetics in identifying human drug targets. As I have previously noted, human genetics can also provide insights to identifying pathways enriched for approved drugs (see Nature article here), which indicates that novel pathways may provide an important foundation for novel drug discovery programs.  Indeed, the use of pathway-based approaches, including phenotypic screens, can provide a powerful way to make complex genetic pathways actionable for drug discovery.

Today, I am excited to note that Merck has launched a Merck Innovation Network (MINt) Request for Proposals to identify collaborations with academic scientists to evaluate genetic targets or genetic pathways for their potential to become drug discovery programs. …

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