‘We are the world’

Open Innovation Drug Discovery program expands to bring academia, scientists, researchers, biotechs together across the globe

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INDIANAPOLIS—Aimed at boosting the discovery of effective treatments for difficult-to-treat diseases and creating a worldwide network of problem-solvers, Eli Lilly has expanded the scope of its Open Innovation Drug Discovery (OIDD) program from investigators at qualified universities to also include researchers of institutes and small biotech firms.
“Currently, we have 567 global researchers from 24 countries around the world and 286 institutions,” Alan Palkowitz, vice president of Discovery Chemistry and Research Technologies, tells DDNews. “Of the 286 institutions, 44 are biotechs and 242 are academic institutions.”
“We have seen success in two critical ways,” Palkowitz says. “First, our network of potential collaborators has expanded. We’ve found an effective and efficient way to work with small biotechs and academic institutions. What’s most exciting is that we are working with scientists whom we might not have prior to the OIDD program.
“Second, we now have access to new ideas and compounds unavailable anywhere else. For example, we have two new collaborators who have discovered chemical scaffolds that target a key cardiometabolic protein. Lilly now has formal collaborations with these institutions so that together, we can study the potential of these small molecules.”
Jimmy Wu, an associate professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College, has been a driving force in this effort. Wu secured a $1.5-million grant from the National Institutes of Health as a result of his work in Open Innovation Drug Discovery. Wu worked independently (without a Lilly collaboration agreement) and by leveraging the program data, he was able to obtain a patent.
Says Palkowitz, “Using the data generated by the Lilly OIDD program, Dr. Wu secured a grant for synthesizing compounds that can be used to stimulate production of GLP-1 or inhibit the CGRP receptor.”
“Academic institutions are all eligible,” Palkowitz explains. “For biotechs, we want to ensure that we’re supporting the companies that will benefit the most. For example, the biotechs must be legally established and have lab facilities. However, we use market cap to limit the scope to smaller companies.”
Palkowitz touts the wide array of drug discovery technologies available through Eli Lilly in both Indianapolis (where the company is headquartered) and San Diego, including high-throughput in-vitro screening technology and sophisticated mode-of-action assays.
“In San Diego—Lilly’s West Coast site—we have structural biology,” he adds. Depending on the collaboration, technologies from both facilities can be employed. “In fact, it’s the same capabilities available to our own internal scientists.”
By default, “researchers keep the IP rights to everything they submit,” Palkowitz says. “If Lilly and the researcher or institution create a formal collaboration agreement, we negotiate the terms together.”
The greatest benefit that Lilly receives from the OIDD program is “developing a relationship with talented researchers,” Palkowitz says. “If the data generated reveals something of interest to Lilly, we have the first option to negotiate a collaboration agreement to study the compound further.”
All the biological data is generated internally at Lilly, Palkowitz says, then published on the OIDD platform and displayed within 24 hours of it being available.
Alan Palkowitz, vice president of Discovery Chemistry and Research Technologies at Eli Lilly, wrote an executive summary in the OIDD brochure, noting, “We realize it’s important to bring together through partnership and collaboration, diverse scientific talent and capabilities to find the best possible outcomes for the people we serve.” And, unlike other programs, Lilly’s OIDD creates a “broad playing field since it is open to any scientist at eligible research universities, research institutes and small biotechnology companies.”
The idea, he says, is to provide a spirit of cooperation under which Lilly provides access to the company’s cutting-edge research by giving participants the tools and data that can help advance their own scientific work, “while allowing access to Lilly’s intellectual property rights and input—once a collaborative agreement is signed.”
All of this is necessary because the present environment for drug discovery is complicated by many challenges, Palkowitz noted, including rising costs of R&D, poor productivity as measured by a declining number of new drug approvals per dollar investment, patent expirations and increasing regulatory restrictions.
“Ironically, this environment follows on the heels of two decades of transformational breakthroughs in the understanding of disease biology,” Palkowitz says. “Furthermore, the demand for new therapies has never been higher, fueled by unmet medical need, an aging population that will live longer and the growth of emerging markets such as China.”
Pharmaceutical companies have “taken varied approaches to address these challenges, ranging from in-licensing of development-stage molecules, consolidation through mergers and acquisitions and aggressive cost-cutting measures such as outsourcing of work to low-cost providers,” Palkowitz says.
While these approaches have merit, they provide only short-term benefits if they are not supported by scientific innovation that can be translated into clinical opportunities, he says.
One area that has historically been a fertile ground for innovation is the interface between industry and academia.
There are, likewise, examples of clinical success stories that trace their origins to a direct collaborative interaction between industry and academia on specific molecules, he says. These relationships “successfully negotiated the challenges posed by alignment of business and scientific objectives, sharing of intellectual property and the high risk and long-time horizon for converting basic science into clinical outcomes.”
The bottom line is, a mutual desire to advance innovative science and create medicines to help patients brought industry and academic partners together, he says, and all of OIDD’s offerings have the same path to potential collaboration.
“Once you are a member, you can use design tools to create your own molecules, submit compounds for screening in Lilly’s biological assay modules, have your scaffolds considered for inclusion in the Lilly internal collection, synthesize compounds remotely through the Lilly Automated Synthesis Laboratory and connect with global partners toward discovering medicines for neglected and tropical diseases,” Palkowitz says.

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