BioFocus DPI, Oncodesign join forces in oncology discovery

BioFocus DPI and Oncodesign have pooled their expertise and resources to form a drug discovery service specializing in the rapid generation of promising anticancer drugs

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SAFFRON WALDEN, England—BioFocus DPI and Dijon, France-based Oncodesign have pooled their expertise and resources to form a drug discovery service specializing in the rapid generation of promising anticancer drugs. The partnership will leverage BioFocus' target discovery and screening technologies with Oncodesign's experimental pharmacology and biomarker expertise in oncology.

The alliance, announced July 27, emerged in response to the industry's growing knowledge of disease pathways and market demand for specialized drug discovery services across the globe.

The companies complement each other, says Jonathan Ewing, director of business development at Oncodesign, a biotechnology company dedicated to the discovery of anticancer therapies. Oncodesign boasts 12 years experience in preclinical drug development and collaborations with 15 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

"BioFocus DPI has a unique approach to target discovery combining human primary cell assays with high-throughput adenoviral technology and supported by state-of-the-art monitoring equipment," Ewing says. "We provide an extensive range of assay development and screening services including custom cell line generation, assay development across all target classes and high-throughput and fragment screening, using quality small molecule and natural product screening libraries."

Full medicinal chemistry optimization services are supported by biochemical and sophisticated biological and pharmacokinetic in vitro profiling, Ewing says. These service areas could be applied to nearly any therapeutic area.

Oncodesign also "has very focused biology and pharmacology expertise" in the field of oncology, ranging from in vitro and in vivo proof-of-concept to translational and biomarker approaches supported by a preclinical imaging platform, he says.

"Our translational expertise lies in our use of preclinical pharmacoimaging techniques for the development of clinically relevant imaging biomarkers and the use of tumor models derived from freshly obtained human tumor material for the development of serum-based biomarkers," Ewing says. "Additionally, Oncodesign has recently embarked on a five-year program to discover and develop novel PET tracers for use as diagnostic and companion biomarkers for kinase targets and their inhibitors."

Thus, Oncodesign offers non-overlapping discovery services at the end of the drug discovery spectrum, which results in a nearly complete small molecule drug discovery platform, he says.

"Oncodesign brings a very strong oncology component to Biofocus DPI's otherwise non-specific discovery platform," Ewing says.

BioFocus DPI will also play to its strengths. The company, located near Cambridge, is responsible for drug discovery related to the actual target discovery, screening services and medicinal chemistry, while Oncodesign takes the most advanced drug hits into lead identification, lead optimization, clinical candidate selection and eventually be responsible for any biomarker development, Ewing says.

"We are not only responding to pharma's current and future externalization needs, but also to its desire for open innovation—where pharma is looking for innovative approaches and processes—not simply reproducing what they already do in-house," Ewing says. "The success of this alliance will be measured by the size and scope of contracts with pharma and biotech, as well as the scientific interest of the clients' programs."

Chris Newton, senior vice president of BioFocus DPI, says that Oncodesign's extensive experience in developing anticancer therapeutics complements BioFocus DPI's medicinal chemistry and biology expertise, thus creating a focused oncology drug discovery offering that can move rapidly from hit finding to preclinical candidates.

"As the industry's understanding of disease pathways has grown considerably in recent years, the need for specialized drug discovery services has also grown," Newton says.

Speaking for BioFocus, David Robinson, director of Alto Marketing, says, "BioFocus DPI has a suite of in vitro platforms, including high-throughput screening, fragment-based screening and independent screening decks totaling over 900,000 molecules to screen."

The alliance "is a fabulous hit-finding capability for new oncology targets looking for starting points for researching new drugs," Robinson says. "BioFocus has all the medicinal chemistry, in vitro biology and pharmacokinetic capability to optimize those hits to candidate clinical compounds. However, BioFocus has no capability of demonstrating (for an oncology project) that the molecules work in sophisticated pharmacological models—and it's exactly that capability that Oncodesign can supply. For any third party organization wishing to outsource a complete oncology project to two world expert providers working in harmony, this is a perfect opportunity."

BioFocus DPI aims to expand its partners' drug pipelines by accelerating the gene-to-drug candidate discovery process. As the service division of Galapagos NV, BioFocus DPI has more than 250 employees in four countries worldwide.

In addition to its headquarters in the U.K., BioFocus also has facilities in the U.S., the Netherlands and Switzerland, and sales offices in Japan and the U.S. BioFocus was founded in 1997 by a group of former Wellcome scientists as a chemistry services company.

In 2001, BioFocus acquired biotechnology company Cambridge Drug Discovery, adding biology to its range of services. In October 2005, Galapagos acquired BioFocus.

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