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Annemiek Verkamman on the future of drug development

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The Dutch biotech sector is booming, but how do we maximise patient benefits across healthcare as a whole? The answer lies in greater innovation and efficiency, says the head of HollandBio.

When it comes to the future of drug development, HollandBio’s ethos can be summed up by its ‘faster, better’ approach to bringing medicines to market.

As the industry body responsible for connecting and representing the Netherland’s flourishing biotech sector—a scientific community that comprises 1150 organisations within a 120-mile area—HollandBio is at the forefront of championing the innovation and development of new medical treatments.

‘Our aim is to maximise the contribution of biotech to society, from healthcare to sustainability and economic growth,’ says HollandBio’s managing director, Annemiek Verkamman.

Representing a range of biotechnology companies, from small start-ups to multinational corporations, HollandBio is active across specialisms such as medicines, vaccines and gene therapies, as well as the outputs of industrial and agrofood biotech including alternative sources of energy and more resilient crops.

Verkamman cites the breakthrough innovations that the biotech sector delivers, for example in developing life-saving immunotherapies and finding cures for rare diseases.

HollandBio’s ‘faster, better’ philosophy is intended to tear down the obstacles for breakthrough medicines to go from bench to bedside.

‘We recognise that the development of new drugs is risky, expensive and time-consuming,’ says Verkamman. ‘Our “faster, better” approach is a response to that. It’s designed to facilitate innovations in the industry and to generate solutions that help us do this.’

One of the ways to do so, is to make better use of smart diagnostic tools. Some of the most exciting innovations of recent years are taking place in the field of organoids, says Verkamman, where a patient’s own cells are used to grow a ‘mini-organ’ in the laboratory in order to test which drugs work best.

‘Because it’s the patients own cells, you can also predict treatment responses better,’ she says of a technology that holds particular promise for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, Chron’s disease and cancer. Equally exciting in scope is ‘lab on a chip’—a device that’s capable of minituarising several body functions into a single microchip.

‘Lab chips can be used to mimic organs and it’s hoped that one day we can also use these to replace animal testing of new drugs,’ she says, while personalised medicine and the move away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment is another area of huge potential, where these technologies can be used to help find potential cures.‘

While opportunities for progress exist, this is not the only obstacle on the road. ‘The current regulatory system does not anticipate future innovations in medicine,’ says Verkamman.

Take for example the drug development for rare diseases with very small patient populations, where the standard model for registration and reimbursement, ‘doesn’t fit into the current regulatory system,’ says Verkamman.

’We need to make sure that we have a seamless transition from the registration of medicines right through to their reimbursement,’ she says.

The move to Amsterdam by the European Medicines Agency will bring additional opportunities. Other solutions that Verkamman advocates involve putting the patient perspective in the lead by the industry in every stage of drug development.

‘We are a small country, with really good scientists in the field, a flourishing biotech sector and great infrastructure. Everyone knows each other,’ she says. ‘Together we can make sure that biotech keeps delivering.’

Source: Technologische Ontwikkeling