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Bio Technology : July 2009
AusBioFEATURE Diseases of ageing: How biotechnology is lengthening and enhancing our lives. Largely due to developments in health sciences, our life expectancy has steadily increased. These days Australian women (born 2005 – 2010) can expect to live to 84 on average, while men will live on average to 79 years. Further advances in bio-therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices are expected to continue this trend toward living longer, but biotechnology is also enhancing quality of life for people as they age. The medicine, known as omacetaxine, is in its final stages of clinical development. The treatment could receive approval by the US Food and Drug Administration by mid 2010. Omacetaxine has been developed for CML patients that show resistance to the drug imatinib, due to a specific mutation known as T315I. The clinical evidence for ChemGenex’s omacetaxine is compelling and is exemplified by a clinical trial participant. Susan, a 62 year old woman started treatment on omacetaxine in February 2007 after failing both interferon and imatinib – the first line treatment for CML. She has been in remission since December 2007 and continues to enjoy good health and is maintaining her treatment. Australia has among the world’s fastest ageing population. By 2050, over 30% of the population will be over 65 years of age and the ‘85 or older’ age group is the fastest-growing segment. While the older generation is in better health than previous generations, three-quarters of people aged 65 and over report living with a major illness. Diseases of ageing are likely to be chronic, therefore affecting people’s day-to-day enjoyment of their lives over long periods of time. As people age they become more susceptible to a host of illnesses, some of the most common include arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, strokes, heart disease, macular degeneration, and many forms of cancer, such as leukeamia, bowel and breast cancers. There is also increased prevalence in older age of diseases like diabetes and depression. In most, if not all of these areas, Australian universities and biotechnology companies are advancing research. This major contribution to society, both for Australians and citizens globally, is providing hope for future treatments and solutions, and better ways of detecting disease early. ChemGenex, one of Australia’s leading biotech companies, is working on a life-prolonging medicine for the treatment of the blood cancer, Chronic Myeloid Leukeamia (CML), which is most common in adults over 50 years of age. 26 Australasian BioTechnology Volume 19 • Number 2 • July 2009 Omacetaxine's clinical potential is based on a process known as pharma-cogenomics, a relatively new form of personalised medicine, where specific medicines will be administered to a patient based on their genetic make up. For decades, doctors have been looking for ways to improve the effectiveness of medical treatments based on the patient’s own genetic blue print. Pharmacogenomics is making that possible, significantly transforming potential for patient care and offering a better chance for more effective treatment of illness. Prana Biotechnology, a Melbourne-based biotech company, works with world-class affiliates, including the Harvard Medical School, on technology arising from a series of discoveries about the causes of major age-related diseases. Prana develops treatments and diagnostics for the underlying causes of brain and eye degeneration as we age. Initially focused on the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, the company took its name from its aim, to preserve the ‘life force’, the ‘Prana’, within each and every sufferer of the disease. These companies provide a glimpse into the biotech sector, where inspiring stories of innovation and discovery are abundant. These companies are working on and providing solutions to society’s challenges in health, food, fuel and climate change – and helping us live longer, healthier lives.