Story by Chris Graham
The transformation of the Shenandoah Valley into the Silicon Shenandoah is not coming along as quickly as some might have hoped – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not coming along.
“We are conducting basic research – which is geared toward development of early diagnostics, therapies and vaccines for infectious diseases that are of global importance. Presently, our research focus would be in an area called protoeomics, and we will apply a variety of techniques and technologies that will help us understand how these infections occur at a very early stage so that we can develop molecules and therapies that can be used as an antidote going forward,” said Krishna Kodukula, the executive director of the Center for Advanced Drug Research, a joint project of SRI International and James Madison University.
CADRE is currently based at JMU in Harrisonburg – as work on a dedicated building for the center progresses toward an anticipated 2009 move-in date.
SRI International’s arrival in the Valley was the big economic-development news in Virginia in 2006 – if only because of SRI’s history as the mover and shaker behind the development of California’s Silicon Valley a generation ago.
The Center for Advanced Drug Research has the potential to turn the Shenandoah Valley into the Silicon Valley of the 21st century with its focus on breaking through what Walter Moos, the vice president of SRI International’s Biosciences Division, calls the drug R&D crisis.
“Costs have gone up sixfold since the 1970s. Productivity has gone down. It takes 10 to 20 years to develop a drug – and it costs a billion dollars or more to develop a drug. High-risk, high-payoff – but even after you’re on the market with a drug like Vioxx, like Merck recently saw, the drug can fall out of favor very quickly and cause tens of billions of dollars of lost value,” Moos said.
“This isn’t good enough. If you or I were diagnosed with cancer today, and Krishna came up with a cure today, we would probably die of that cancer before the drug got to market. And we have to do better. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do with our research and development,” Moos said.
“We’re going to be assembling here a team of the best and brightest from Virginia and from other locations around the world to work on true global-health problems that have impacts that most people don’t recognize,” Moos said. “Did you know that every 18 seconds, somebody in the world dies of tuberculosis? The threat of tubercolosis was recently on the national news with the person who was in and out of the country and ended up being treated at one of the best centers for TB. It really opened peoples’ eyes at how a global-health problem can come right home next door to you. Every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria. And if the worst were to happen with flu – if bird flu was easily transmitted from birds to people and from person to person – we would be looking at not billions of dollars of impact on people, not to mention the suffering and death, we would be looking at trillions of dollars of impact in the U.S. and around the world.
“These kinds of problems are staggering in their effect – and these are the kinds of problems, important problems, not just interesting ones, that Krishna and others here in the Shenandoah Valley will be attacking,” Moos said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.