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

April 18, 2012

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.

Explore further: Researchers characterize epigenetic fingerprint of 1,628 people

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

Related Stories

Researchers characterize epigenetic fingerprint of 1,628 people

June 2, 2011
Until a decade, it was believed that differences between people were due solely to the existence of genetic changes, which are alterations in the sequence of our genes. The discoveries made during these last ten years show ...

Epigenetics and epidemiology -- hip, hype and science

March 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 ...

Study gives clue as to how notes are played on the genetic piano

May 12, 2011
Japanese and U.S. scientists in the young field of epigenetics Thursday reported a rationale as to how specific genes are silenced and others are not. Because this effect can be reversed, it may be possible to devise therapies ...

Safety concerns about adulterated drug ingredients

May 17, 2011
Government regulators and pharmaceutical companies are moving to address a major new risk for the global supply of medicines: The possibility that unsafe ingredients are entering the supply chain as pharmaceutical companies ...

Recommended for you

Scientists identify new way cells turn off genes

July 19, 2017
Cells have more than one trick up their sleeve for controlling certain genes that regulate fetal growth and development.

South Asian genomes could be boon for disease research, scientists say

July 18, 2017
The Indian subcontinent's massive population is nearing 1.5 billion according to recent accounts. But that population is far from monolithic; it's made up of nearly 5,000 well-defined sub-groups, making the region one of ...

Mutant yeast reveals details of the aberrant genomic machinery of children's high-grade gliomas

July 18, 2017
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital biologists have used engineered yeast cells to discover how a mutation that is frequently found in pediatric brain tumor high-grade glioma triggers a cascade of genomic malfunctions.

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Newly identified genetic marker may help detect high-risk flu patients

July 17, 2017
Researchers have discovered an inherited genetic variation that may help identify patients at elevated risk for severe, potentially fatal influenza infections. The scientists have also linked the gene variant to a mechanism ...

Newly discovered gene variants link innate immunity and Alzheimer's disease

July 17, 2017
Three new gene variants, found in a genome wide association study of Alzheimer's disease (AD), point to the brain's immune cells in the onset of the disorder. These genes encode three proteins that are found in microglia, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.