IBM Reboots Drug Discover

Can the semiconductor industry help Big Pharma develop therapies?
May 01, 2011


Erik Greb
Despite the adoption of new research strategies, the pharmaceutical industry's pipelines are slow to grow. Perhaps other industries will take up the challenge of developing new drugs.

It's already happening at IBM, where researchers have unveiled a biodegradable nanoparticle that targets and destroys antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus. The nanoparticle's specific electrical charge draws it to an opposite charge on the surface of the bacteria. When it finds its target, the nanoparticle pokes holes in the bacterial membrane and empties out the bacteria, IBM researcher James Hedrick told The Wall Street Journal. By destroying the bacteria, the nanoparticle may prevent them from developing resistance.

The semiconductor industry has embraced many techniques (e.g., outsourcing, supply-chain management, and robotic technology) that drugmakers eventually adopted for their own purposes. IBM's development strikes me as another example of synergies that can be gained across seemingly disparate industries.

Finding the next blockbuster may be much more difficult now than it was in the past. But even if drug candidates are fewer, IBM's nanoparticle shows that technological innovations are increasing. If small- and large-molecule firms keep their minds and eyes open, they might come up with exciting new modes of action or methods of drug delivery. Maybe current challenges—and good examples—will stimulate drugmakers' ingenuity.

Erik Greb is an assistant editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.