Francis Collins wants to put you on a chip.

Well, ok, not quite yet. But he thinks it’s coming. Have a look (and hang on to the end for you on a chip):

At a recent TEDMED session, Francis Collins gave a short talk about some ways forward in drug development. It’s just taking too long, and there are many hazards that affect the process today. He had a nice illustration of the pipeline that takes us from a bucketload of promising compounds –>pre-clinical testing –> clinical trials –> 1 FDA approval if you are lucky, and have a billion dollars to spend on this.

There are a few ways to speed this up. One example he used was the case of a drug for Progeria. Collins invited a 15 year old guy who has been involved in the clinical trials to talk about the disease and the hope for contributing to effective treatments. It was a great perspective. But the point Collins also wanted to make with this drug was that it was not developed for this rare disease–it was a compound developed for something else, but that was discovered to have possible benefits for Progeria. So he hopes that we might be able to dig some other things out of the freezers that may have useful effects beyond their initial forays into whatever their target had been.

He also used the opportunity to talk about the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS), and additional strategies to speed things up. Not only testing those other older compounds, but also new ones, with new technologies that might be better and faster than the old route of animal testing. One idea is to use a type of cell culture chip that is much more like actual tissues (lung, muscle, etc) that might be better to characterize human response to a drug. And he mused that someday there could even be chips made with your cells in this manner to see how you’d respond–that “you on a chip”. You can see more about this tech at their site: Designing a Tissue Chip for Drug Screening. Looks cool to me and makes a lot of sense. It would be nice to be able to reduce the time and expense and animal use when possible, while getting more species-relevant data.

So have a look if you want to see where he’s aiming. And think about if you want to be on a chip.

If you want the longer form of this talk with more formal references and such, the same info is found in a paper he wrote which is freely available and linked below.

Quick link direct to the YouTube:


Collins, F. (2011). Reengineering Translational Science: The Time Is Right Science Translational Medicine, 3 (90), 90-90 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002747