The future of the small molecule? Increased complexity and biologic pairings, says industry

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Artem_Egorov)
(Image: Getty/Artem_Egorov)
Next-generation regenerative and personalised medicines may be attracting increased industry attention, but small molecule drugs are here to stay, say executives.

The size and growth potential of small molecule pipelines can be overlooked or misunderstood, Catalent’s Cornell Stamoran told delegates during a panel discussion at Interphex in April.

According to the contract development and manufacturing organisation (CDMO) executive, approximately 8,000 small molecule products are currently active in research and development – marking a 25% growth over the past two years.

“Over the past ten years, [the market] has grown by about 6% per year,” ​Stamoran said.

“Small molecule development is growing a little slower than the 5,000 or so large molecules in development, but it is still very active,” ​he added.

Stamoran said small molecule drugs can also play an important role in next-generation medicines. In some areas of regenerative medicine – such as stem cell therapy – small molecules can trigger a therapeutic reaction. So some of these new treatments are in fact reliant on small molecules, he added.

Another next-generation medicine – the antibody-drug conjugate​ (ADC) – is comprised of a small molecule highly potent cytotoxic drug linked to a cancer-cell targeting monoclonal antibody (mAb).

Senior director of operations at CMIC CMO USA Corporation Michael O’Donoghue agreed that small molecules are often valuable components of next-generation medicine.

“They may be used in conjunction with the [next-generation] therapies we use today, and we’ve seen that,” ​he said. “There is still a lot of potential with small molecules.”

The increasing complexity of the small molecule is also altering its role within the bio/pharmaceutical industry, MilliporeSigma’s Jeffrey Shumway told delegates at CPhI North America last week.

Pipeline small molecules are becoming so big and complex, they are not dissimilar to “small biologics”​ – “when you think that peptides are synthesised now rather than produced by biologic systems.”

“So we’re looking at a very grey area, where these molecules are getting so complex that they are starting to bridge the gap between small molecules and more fundamental biologics,” ​he added.

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