Huge amounts of time and money required to develop new drugs
People often get ill when the season changes. It's a time when many people take medicine. Nowadays, a vast number of drugs are available at drugstores, and enormous amounts of time and money are spent developing each one of them. Even cheap over-the-counter drugs can take some 9 to 17 years and 20 to 30 billion yen (approx. USD $200 million) to develop.
Only about 1 in 30,000 potential new drugs succeed
Creating a new drug is called "drug discovery." The process of drug discovery starts with target exploration – identifying the protein that causes a disease. Then, substances that affect the protein are created to identify candidates for a new drug. After a variety of tests, including toxicity tests and animal experiments, clinical trials finally start to administer the drug to human beings. Only those drugs that have passed repeated clinical tests over many years are authorized by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare before becoming largely available to the public.
Despite the huge amounts of time and money spent, the probability of a new drug being developed is actually very small. According to a survey by the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, the probability is about 1 in 30,000. To overcome this difficulty, the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST), Fujitsu, and Kowa Company are jointly conducting research to increase the probability of new drug development. The approach they are taking is IT-based drug discovery using supercomputers, including the K Supercomputer.
Many new drugs developed by supercomputers
More specifically, Fujitsu designs the structure of a chemical compound that may serve as a candidate for a new drug. Based on the design, Kowa synthesizes the compound and conducts experiments to see whether the synthesized compound produces the expected effects as a drug. Then, based on the results of the experiments, RCAST works on improving the design method in order to establish basic technologies for developing new drugs for difficult-to-treat diseases.
Using supercomputers makes it possible to efficiently design and verify countless combinations of substances. It also reveals changes in the structure of proteins at the atomic level, opening up the possibility of developing more drugs than before. In the future, it may become possible to provide individualized medical care tailored to each patient's medical condition.
The possibilities of IT-based drug discovery are expanding, making it likely that drugs that have been difficult to develop – such as drugs that cure cancer and other intractable diseases or drugs with small side effects on the body – will become easier to develop. There may even come a time in the near future when we won't have to fear cancer any longer.
Fujitsu will continue to promote IT-based drug discovery and create new drugs for a wide range of diseases in order to contribute to developing new types of medical treatment and to realizing a healthy society for everyone.