Not by DNA alone: How the epigenetics revolution is fostering new medicines

Scientific insights that expand on the teachings of Mendel, Watson and Crick, and underpinnings of the Human Genome Project are moving drug companies along the path to development of new medicines based on deeper insights into how factors other than the genetic code influence health and disease. That's the topic of the cover story in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society.

The article, by C&EN Senior Editor Lisa M. Jarvis, focuses on the quiet revolution — in — that has been sweeping through biology, chemistry and other scientific fields for the last several years. It explains how scientists initially believed that cracking the , achieved a decade ago, would lay out a straight path for inventing : Identify the genetic mutation behind a disease and then find a drug that overcomes it. But scientists now know that another layer of biochemical controls, an epigenetics layer, influences how and when genes work in health and disease without changing DNA itself. Early epigenetics research already produced four drugs currently approved to treat blood cancer. But these treatments lack selectivity, limiting their effectiveness.

Now, Jarvis explains, companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Epizyme and Constellation Pharmaceuticals are moving ahead to develop the next generation of epigenetic drugs, particularly for cancer. Armed with a better understanding of how specific epigenetic enzymes are implicated in disease, they are designing compounds to block the activity of those enzymes. The article describes GSK's announcement earlier this month of an epigenetic inhibitor it has developed that might fight lymphoma. "Although no one will know the value of the new epigenetic compounds until they are tested in humans, scientists are confident that the field is moving forward with the right balance of caution and enthusiasm," Jarvis concludes.

More information: "Controlling the Code" cen.acs.org/articles/90/i16/Controlling-Code.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Epigenetics and epidemiology -- hip, hype and science

Mar 15, 2012

Epigenetics is the new hip science. Time Magazine's front cover and article, 'Why your DNA isn't your Destiny' from January 2010 explains why. Its more explicit subtitle provided the hook - 'The new science of epigenetics ...

Secret funding fosters hope for new drugs for autism

Sep 15, 2010

Funding from an anonymous wealthy family has been the secret to progress, at long last, in developing drugs that show promise for helping millions of people worldwide with Fragile X syndrome, the most common genetic cause ...

Recommended for you

A nucleotide change could initiate fragile X syndrome

20 hours ago

Researchers reveal how the alteration of a single nucleotide—the basic building block of DNA—could initiate fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited form of intellectual disability. The study appears ...

Gene clues to glaucoma risk

Aug 31, 2014

Scientists on Sunday said they had identified six genetic variants linked to glaucoma, a discovery that should help earlier diagnosis and better treatment for this often-debilitating eye disease.

Mutation disables innate immune system

Aug 29, 2014

A Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich team has shown that defects in the JAGN1 gene inhibit the function of a specific type of white blood cells, and account for a rare congenital immune deficiency that ...

Study identifies genetic change in autism-related gene

Aug 28, 2014

A new study from Bradley Hospital has identified a genetic change in a recently identified autism-associated gene, which may provide further insight into the causes of autism. The study, now published online in the Journal of ...

NIH issues finalized policy on genomic data sharing

Aug 27, 2014

The National Institutes of Health has issued a final NIH Genomic Data Sharing (GDS) policy to promote data sharing as a way to speed the translation of data into knowledge, products and procedures that improve health while ...

User comments