Researchers eye biomarkers for safer Cox inhibitor use

Could biomarkers tailor the use of pain drugs? Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania hope to determine whether common painkillers such as Celebrex and Aleve can be used more effectively by identifying patients most likely to benefit--and least likely to suffer serious side effects.

It's the sort of "personalized medicine" that drugmakers are moving toward as the megblockbuster era winds down. Pharma companies are focusing on treatments tailored to patients with specific genetic characteristics, identified using diagnostic tests.

Of course, in this case, the drugs under study aren't new. But they've been associated with safety risks in the past. Celebrex is a Cox-2 inhibitor, cousin to the notorious Vioxx, which was withdrawn in 2004 because of heart attack and stroke risks. Aleve is a Cox-1 inhibitor and has been linked to bleeding in the GI tract. So, biomarkers that could predict patient response to these drugs would enable safer, more effective use.

Plus, researchers hope that the techniques they use can be applied to other drug classes. Statin drugs, for instance, have been associated with severe side effects in some people, and their effectiveness tends to vary. Response to other drugs, such as antidepressants, varies widely from patient to patient and drug to drug, so biomarkers that could predict one patient's response could save a lot of trial and error. It's a long-term effort however; the research team just won an $18 million grant to cover the first 5 years of an estimated 10-year study.

- read the WSJ piece

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