Initiative in Systems Pharmacology

October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here is a letter from HMS Dean Jeffrey Flier that came out today.  Many of us have been working on this for months, so it’s exciting to see it go public!  The Boston Globe also has a nice article, here.

Dear Members of the Harvard Medical School Community:

I am excited to announce that Harvard Medical School is launching an Initiative in Systems Pharmacology, a comprehensive strategy to transform drug discovery by convening researchers from an unprecedented range of disciplines to explore together how drugs work in complex systems.

The initiative will be led by Marc Kirschner, the John Franklin Enders University Professor of Systems Biology and chairman of the HMS Department of Systems Biology; Peter Sorger, professor of systems biology; and Tim Mitchison, Hasib Sabbagh Professor of Systems Biology and deputy chairman of the Department of Systems Biology. It will comprise of faculty from a broad array of disciplines, including systems biology, cell biology, genetics, immunology, neurobiology, pharmacology, medicine, physics, computer science and mathematics, drawing on expertise from the Quad and our distinguished affiliated hospitals and research institutions. The initiative will be fueled by a strong and diverse group of existing faculty and new recruits who will be based in several departments, and will be supported by an ambitious fundraising effort.

The Initiative in Systems Pharmacology is a signature component of an HMS Program in Translational Science and Therapeutics. Led by William Chin, the Bertarelli Professor of Translational Medical Science and executive dean for research at HMS, Translational Science and Therapeutics is being created with two broad goals: first, to increase significantly our knowledge of human disease mechanisms, the nature of heterogeneity of disease expression in different individuals, and how therapeutics act in the human system; and second—based on this knowledge—to provide more effective translation of ideas to our patients by improving the quality of drug candidates as they enter the clinical testing and regulatory approval process, aiming to increase the number of efficacious diagnostics and therapies reaching patients.

With this Initiative in Systems Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School is reframing classical pharmacology and marshaling its unparalleled intellectual resources to take a novel approach to an urgent problem: The alarming slowdown in development of new and lifesaving drugs.

A better understanding of the whole system of biological molecules that controls medically important biological behavior, and the effects of drugs on that system, will help to identify the best drug targets and biomarkers. This will help to select earlier the most promising drug candidates, ultimately making drug discovery and development faster, cheaper and more effective. A deeper understanding will also help clinicians personalize drug therapies, making better use of medicine we already have.

The initiative will support both new approaches in translational science, such as failure analysis on unsuccessful drugs and use of chemical biology to develop probes of biological pathways. It will also include a new educational program, one that develops a new generation of students, postdoctoral fellows and physician-scientists, the future leaders in academic and industrial efforts in systems pharmacology and therapeutic discovery.

Transcending disciplines, departments and institutions, the systems pharmacology initiative will present new opportunities for collaboration throughout the HMS community. To learn more about this important initiative and its potential to transform drug discovery and patient care, please visit You can also see a video on the initiative at

I hope you share our excitement about the potential of this promising initiative, and I welcome your ideas as we move forward.

Jeffrey S. Flier
Dean, Faculty of Medicine

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