International Workshop on Future Challenges for Systems Biology

4-6 Feburary 2008 Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo, Japan

Hosted by Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK (BBSRC)
Supported by British Embassy in Japan, The Systems Biology Institute

Ten years ago, in 1998, the word “systems biology” was first used in the modern context of biological research by Kitano (Kitano, April 1998) and Hood (Hood, August 1998), claming to pursue systems-level understanding of living forms. While the idea of system-oriented approach has long tradition dates back to homeostasis and cybernetics, “systems biology” captured restaurant supplies renewed interest on systems approach in the light of significant progress in genomics, computer science, metabolic analysis, dynamical systems, and other related fields. The field continued to grow and numbers of systems biology centers and departments has been established. Also, we are now in the process of establishing International Society for Systems Biology (ISSB). While the field continue to grow, expectation is high that systems biology to demonstrates its fruits. No doubt that we should rule out “hype”, but we should take it serious on how the field can provide high impact to science and society. The workshop intents to provide a forum of discussions on selected potential high impact issues that pose challenges to systems biology researchers. To best accomplish this goal, the workshop is organized into three parts: the major challenge topic and frontiers in basic research and novel applications.

This year, the workshop’s main challenge topic is “systems drug design”. We are facing the reality that despite enormous investment in genomics and proteomics with a promise of finding cure for diseases, return on investment is astonishingly small. As a report from United States Government Accountability Office correctly identified “Lack of scientific understanding in treating diseases contributes to increase failure rate and increase research and development expenditures”. It is critically important to gain in-depth understanding on how biological systems work and how diseases are triggered, maintained, and progress, if we are to obtain rational and quality medical treatments. The long-term success of our in-depth understanding of living systems depends on basic research on some of fundamental issues in systems biology as well as technology development to support such efforts. Such efforts shall provide us in-depth insights on principles behind biological systems as well as guiding principles for designing therapeutic strategies for complex diseases. This has to be done at the system level in addition to efforts in molecular level.

When you look at organisms at system-level, it is a complex network of diverse set of molecules that are transcribed from genome and interacts in intracellular space as well as inter-cellular tissue structures. There seems to be several basic design principles and patterns that we wish to understand and enable us to explore them for more rational medical application designs. For example, one of reasons for high failure rate for drug discovery is that diseases are multi-factorial and biological molecular network is evolved to be robust against perturbations so that native targeting of possible disease related molecules would not leads to effective cure. Thus, we need to understand how molecules and genes are related to form a network, how such network causes diseases, how can we perturb “ill-networks” to cure diseases.  While pursuing such approach significantly rationalize drug and therapeutic design efforts, it may trigger a paradigm shift in biomedical research and drug discovery from molecular-centric view to network-centric view. A series of questions shall be addressed to establish effective therapeutic strategies and drug design that includes: How can we systematically design drugs and therapeutic strategy for network diseases? How to establish theoretical and technological foundation for multi-component drugs? How can dynamical simulation improve efficacy of drug discovery process? How robustness shape ideas on novel drug design approach? How basic research on systems biology relates to drug and therapeutic design?

By providing a focused workshop with distinguished speakers and limited attendee, we hope tangible discussions to take place that may leads to novel ideas and exciting new projects. It is also the intention of JST that they seek the way how Japan can contribute to progress of systems biology through discussions in this workshop. International contribution in science is one of major policy agenda of JST which already carry out a series of joint project funding and a new UK-Japan systems biology collaboration program is to be launched. The hope is that this workshop to be the starting point of such initiative.