FREMONT, Calif.—Ciphergen Biosystems Inc. announced a research and collaboration agreement in liver disease with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). The primary goal of the work will be to develop a diagnostic blood test that can measure the progress of liver disease and thus reduce the need for painful and costly biopsies of the liver in hepatitis C patients. But the work has a longer-term goal that could have a huge impact on developing better drugs for treating such patients.
"A big part of what we are doing is looking for blood markers that will help us track the progression of liver fibrosis, a consequence of chronic hepatitis infection and a huge risk factor for liver cancer," says Eric Fung, vice president of clinical and medical affairs for Ciphergen. "But we are also trying to see which patients respond to therapy, which don't and why. Typically, people are treated with interferon and an antibiotic drug, but not everyone responds, and we'd like to know what factors increase or decrease the probability of response."
This is a concern, Fung says, since response rates can be as low as 30 percent and physicians and patients alike would prefer not to use interferon if they know it won't help.
"Interferon therapy is quite toxic and unpleasant, and we have this cohort of patients from UTMB where we know which patients were given interferon and showed clinical response," he adds. "Although our primary goal is to predict who will respond to therapy, there is also a direct benefit to drug development researchers because if we have a better understanding of who responds and whether there are predictive molecular markers, we can hopefully track back into the biological mechanisms and understand that pathways that are involved."
Not only would that mean tailoring therapy better, Fung says, but would likely lead in the long run to drugs that use the best possible pathways to treat hepatitis and liver complications that arise from the disease.
"Truly understanding the pathways would be a great help in terms of cutting down the cost and time involved in getting better therapeutic options on the market," Fung notes.
The Ciphergen work with UTMB might even have an impact on personalized medicine but as Fung says, true personalized medicine has a long way to go before it sees a truly practical and economical application.