It is interesting to see the notion of tech platforms play out in other fields. Specifically, the biotech field is all abuzz on platforms. For example Exelixis' oncology platform built on kinase inhibitors.
Having a validated drug discovery platform is the first and most important criterion for defining a good platform company. The platform is typically comprised of a combination of technology, experienced personnel and intellectual property that can generate a stream of drug candidates. Most importantly, investing should be done only after a product of the platform demonstrates activity in clinical trials. Having a clinically validated product is not a guarantee for future success of the platform nor does it mean that the specific agent will reach the market, but it does imply that one or more of the platform’s products stand a reasonable chance of becoming a commercial drug. A validated platform may increase overall success rates, yet the odds of a particular drug candidate to make it all the way to approval are still low.
Exelixis is active in the ever growing market of kinase inhibitors (KIs) for the treatment of cancer, that is, drugs that block the activity of kinases in cancer cells. Cancer cells are often described as cells that are out of control: They proliferate quickly, ignore death signals, invade nearby tissues and eventually metastasize to distant organs. These disease onset and advancement are associated with processes such as cell growth, motility and blood-vessel formation, which are governed by a complex network made of kinases. Thus, blocking these processes by inhibiting the relevant kinases has emerged as one of the most attractive approaches to fighting cancer.
Together with monoclonal antibodies, kinase inhibitors represent a paradigm shift in cancer treatment from cytotoxic agents to targeted therapies, a trend that is constantly growing. Like antibodies for cancer, kinase inhibitors target tumors while sparing healthy cells and consequently lead to better activity with fewer side effects. Kinase inhibitors, however, possess several advantages over antibodies. The most evident advantage is that KIs can hit targets inside the cell while antibodies can only bind targets presented on the cell surface, so internal targets are approachable only by KIs. Another advantage is the fact that KIs can be given orally, which is a major factor in terms of patient convenience, especially given the typical long treatment duration associated with targeted therapies. Another advantage, which will be later discussed in the article, is the ability to produce KIs that hit several targets at once.