Shire makes drugs that solve disease

Kelly Dawson
March 14, 2018
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested intoand how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Shire is part of our Disease Eradication portfolio.

  • Shire is 30-year-old business based in Massachusetts that makes its medicines available in more than 100 countries
  • They depends on partnerships with like-minded providers who can aide in research, and other funders
  • By the end of 2016, Shire had an annual revenue of $11 billion

There’s a certain comfort in cause and effect, especially in relation to our bodies. We know that if we accidentally trip and fall, then there’s a good chance we could end up with a bruise — or worse, a broken bone. And we also know that heading out in cold weather without a warm jacket could get us sick, or that certain personal allergies can wreak havoc on our skin. Knowing these things doesn’t make it easier when such pitfalls occur, but they do lessen our feelings of alarm when they do.

But let’s say that something takes place with our bodies that we can’t explain. We feel a pang, recognize a soreness, or spot a blemish that wasn’t there before, and doesn’t seem to be caused by anything we remember. When we visit our doctors, they are stumped too. What happens then?

Although such scenarios of medical mysteries may seem like they’re more suited for a soap opera than real life, they’re not completely contained in fiction. Sure, advancements in technology and medicine have uncloaked the body’s many flaws and functions in the last few decades, and yet, the medical profession is always prone to encounter something without heavily trafficked answers. And in those moments where clear causes and effects are shadowed, medicine depends on science.

One of the world’s leading companies in finding and commercializing answers is Shire, a 30-year-old business based in Massachusetts that currently makes its medicines available in more than 100 countries. Its overall strategy focuses on building a pipeline of research and treatments for rare diseases and highly-specific conditions throughout the body. According to its findings, Shire estimates that there are more than 7,000 known rare diseases on the planet, and only five percent of them have treatments. Furthermore, half of them affect children. That’s why Shire chooses to target the following areas: genetic diseases, hematology, neuroscience, internal medicine, immunology, ophthalmics, and oncology. Examples of these areas include lysosomal storage disorders (a metabolic disorder), hereditary angioedema (a genetic condition), and a more well-known one, pancreatic cancer.

The solutions to each of these groups may still be unknown, but Shire knows that the cause and effect of its work are clear. With its thorough genetic research cycle and proven previous successes, it hopes that more knowledge than confusion awaits those needing reassurance.

Body of research

We all tend to think that we know our bodies best. That’s why a rare disease can be so debilitating: It takes away that sense of innate understanding, as well as our feelings of control. In a book review of novels about those with rare genetic diseases, New York Times writer Misha Angrist puts it like this, “The unexplained disease brings shame, denial, and sometimes blame. Along the way patients ask: Why me?” he writes. “The narratives of families suffering from such diseases traffic in these questions and a roiling stew of emotions: confusion, anger, determination, resilience, love, and moments of profound despair and hope.”

At its core, Shire is concerned with the patients who feel this way about their bodies. The sum of people affected by its areas of research is a vast number — 350 million people worldwide — and yet, the work itself starts with the individuals in this moment of emotion. Shire’s genetic research cycle begins with patients and their families who describe their “unmet medical need.” Its research team studies the underlying genes and makeup of the disease and selects a molecular target that becomes the foundation of a potential treatment. At that point, the cycle moves forward on drug development, which includes discovering and producing new medicines for the company’s pipeline.

That all sounds pretty simple in a few sentences, right? Well, it’s not. If you couldn’t already tell, pinpointing a molecular target for protein engineering isn’t always straightforward, and in some cases, shifting proteins has to be done with the help of other tech labs. So, Shire depends on partnerships with like-minded providers who can aide in research, and other funders to help with getting the work underway. And once the difficult process of finding the right drugs is done, another list of important players — like doctors, advocacy groups, and even government workers — get those treatments out.

Detect and serve

As you can see, Shire oversees a big process and one that takes quite a bit of strategy and innovation. But those two attributes are nothing new to the company, which began with a small research team in 1986. In the first few years, the company sought advancements in treatments for more common issues like osteoporosis, end-stage renal failure, and Alzheimer's disease, and spent the 90s creating more than 20 different combinations of drugs.

The early 2000s saw its transition into rare diseases, and the three-year period of acquisitions between 2013 and 2016 created the company as it is today. By the end of 2016, Shire had an annual revenue of $11 billion around its aforementioned seven therapeutic areas, and a roster of 24,000 employees. More importantly, it had about 40 clinical programs and 20 in the late stages of development that are available worldwide.

Unlike other diseases, Shire knows that rare diseases can take years to properly detect and treat. Therefore, Shire’s future goals are just as layered as their overall business. For starters, it wants to have ongoing measurements of patient impact and educational programs for their products. It also wants to grow its global collaborations across different scientific, manufacturing, and advocacy groups to develop an even bigger market under its helm.

The eventual end result is for Shire to be the leading company for identifying, treating, and perhaps curing rare diseases. And since it has put many causes in place for it to already have a lasting impact, that probable effect shouldn’t come as a surprise.

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