European Lead Factory launched

Public-private partnership aims to accelerate early drug discovery

Lloyd Dunlap
NOTTINGHAM, U.K.—The European Lead Factory, a novel platformfor innovative drug discovery, has been launched by an international consortiumof 30 partners. The partnership, said to be the first of its kind, is supportedby the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and aims to create "unprecedentedopportunities" for the discovery of new medicines by providing public partnerswith an industry-like discovery platform to translate cutting-edge academicresearch into high-quality drug lead molecules on a scale and speed that wasnot possible previously.
 
 
IMI was launched in 2008 by the European Union and theEuropean Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Withits $2.6 billion budget, IMI claims to be the world's largest public-privatepartnership in health research and development. The EU contributes $1.3 billionin cash through its Seventh Framework Programme, while EFPIA companiescontribute $1.3 billion in kind to the IMI projects.
 
"We have launched 40 projects so far, and more are in thepipeline," says project spokesperson Catherine Brett.
 
Some projects focus on specific health issues such asneurological conditions (Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, depression,chronic pain, autism), diabetes, lung disease, oncology, inflammation andinfection, tuberculosis and obesity. Others focus on broader challenges in drugdevelopment such as drug and vaccine safety, knowledge management, thesustainability of chemical drug production, the use of stem cells for drugdiscovery, drug behavior in the body, the creation of a European platform todiscover novel medicines and tackling antimicrobial resistance. In addition toits research projects, IMI supports a number of education and trainingprojects. All projects are submitted to a selection committee and are peerreviewed.
 
At the heart of the program is open access to a largecollection of small molecules. Part of this collection will be contributed bypharmaceutical companies, and the other part will be a newly synthesizedcompound collection built by the consortium's small- and medium-sizedenterprises (SMEs) and academic institutions using the integrated knowledge ofall consortium partners and through open innovation and crowdsourcing.
 
 
Screening of this compound collection will be performedwithin the pharmaceutical companies and by the newly established EuropeanScreening Centre. Stakeholders, including patient organizations and globalhealth initiatives, are invited to contribute their knowledge and networks tothe consortium to elevate the outcome of the early drug discovery process andto be part of the establishment of a new sustainable platform for early drugdiscovery.
 
 
As part of the European Lead Factory, the sevenparticipating pharmaceutical companies will contribute at least 300,000chemical compounds from their corporate chemical collections. A library of anestimated additional 200,000 novel compounds will be developed jointly byacademia and SMEs. Together, the two libraries will form a Joint EuropeanCompound Collection that will be accessible to all project partners and topublic organizations offering promising new targets for drug discoveryscreening.
 
 
The chemistry part of the consortium consists of fiveSMEs—Sygnature Discovery Ltd. (U.K.), Syncom BV (The Netherlands), Edelris SAS(France), Mercachem BV (The Netherlands) and Taros Chemicals GmbH & Co. KG(Germany)—and aims to contribute an estimated 200,000 novel compounds to thejoint compound collection. Proposals will be submitted to a transparentselection and validation process addressing several criteria such as novelty,diversity potential and innovative design. Once approved, the SMEs togetherwith the academic institutions will translate successful scaffolds intohigh-quality compound libraries to be shipped to the consortium's HTSfacilities.
 
 
The European Screening Centre will assist publiccontributors of novel targets in the development of tests compliant with therequirements of HTS screening. Sites in Scotland and the Netherlands willoperate state-of-the art-facilities for compound logistics and high-throughputscreening to handle the 500,000-strong compound library and to evaluate newcompounds that are active against the novel targets. BioCity Scotland and theScottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance combined forces with Pivot Park ScreeningBV in Oss, Netherlands, Dundee University, the University of Oxford and TIPharma to submit a proposal to the IMI that was selected and funded overcompetition from across Europe.
 
 
The total budget for the European Lead Factory (not to beconfused with IMI's $2.6 billion budget) is approximately $256 million. Ofthis, $105 million comes from the European Commission's Seventh FrameworkProgramme for Research and $119 million as in-kind contributions from theparticipating companies that are members of the EFPIA. The remaining $33million comes from other contributions from non-EFPIA participants.
Bayer HealthCare will be the coordinator from EFPIA. TheLeiden, Netherlands-based non-profit organization TI Pharma will facilitate theoverall scientific governance and is heading the European consortium'sscreening efforts. Taros Chemicals of Dortmund, Germany, is heading theEuropean consortium's chemistry effort. If the project proves successful duringits initial five-year funding period, the European Screening Centres and theteams of SMEs and academic institutions aim for a sustainable role in drugdiscovery and the future growth of drug discovery in Europe.

Lloyd Dunlap

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