Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) was in the news a few months ago for buying Abraxis BioScience for 2.9 billion (read: A Billionaire’s Biotech Deal And Old Drugs Reborn at forbes.com, or Prominent Drug Chief to Sell Abraxis BioScience to Celgene for $2.9 Billion at nytimes.com) With this purchase, Celgene has become a big player in the Oncology biz-space with two re-incarnated drugs:
(1) Revlimid (a derivative of "monster-drug," thalidomide) developed by Celgene which is a life saver for multiple myeloma.
(2) Abraxane (which is paclitaxel, the active ingredient in the famous drug Taxol, complexed with albumin) developed by Abraxis for breast and other cancers.
Revlimid came from the Judah Folkman's lab - Robert D’Amato while searching for novel anti-angiogenic compounds reasoned that known drugs with undesireable effect on women's menstrual cycle or pregnancy (causing amenorrhea and teratogenesis, respectively) are good anti-angiogenic candidates. He found six hits, one of them was thalidomide. The metablized (active) version of which completely blocked angiogenesis. In 1997, thalidomide entered clinical trial for multiple myeloma. Along with bortezomib it is an effective option for multiple myeloma.
Abraxane followed the path of taking advantage of doing something about the side effects of a known drug. Paclitaxel is cheap and effective chemo drug but is not without side effects (vomiting, hair loss, exhaustion, infertility, ovarian damage, and so on). Some of these side effects are due to the excipient (Cremophor EL.) Paclitaxel linked to albumin (a.k.a. Abraxane) is water-soluble, has fewer side effects and was more effective than Taxol in metastatic breast cancer trails [Abraxane® ODAC Briefing Package. Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) Meeting, Sept. 07, 2006.] Abraxane avoids Cremophor-related toxicities, which include severe hypersensitivity reactions including anaphylactic reactions and death.
Development of both drugs is a lesson in "looking back" to "move forward."