Evoking innovation: Evotec pulls together innovation center for fragment-based drug discovery work

Evotec AG launched its new Innovation Centre for Fragment Based Drug Discovery (FBDD) in late May. The center draws on internal capabilities and outside scientists, and is the first of a series of new business units aimed at providing enhanced access to innovative discovery techniques.

Lisa Espenschade
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HAMBURG, Germany,and OXFORD, England—EvotecAG launched its new Innovation Centre for Fragment Based Drug Discovery (FBDD)in late May. The center draws on internal capabilities and outside scientists,and is the first of a series of new business units aimed at providing enhancedaccess to innovative discovery techniques.

Mark Ashton, Evotec's executive vice president for businessdevelopment, sees numerous ways the Centre can improve research. "The value, tome," he says, "is bringing innovation in the form of lowering attrition rates,increasing speed, identifying novel chemical matter, and solving certainintractable targets or biological pathways." The centers build on Evotec'sexperience working with 35 of the world's top 50 pharma companies, says Ashton."So we have this unique insight into what challenges pharmaceutical and biotechcompanies face at the moment."

Evotec developed its FBDD technology over the last severalyears, and its FBDD platform now both leverages and augments a comprehensivemenu of discovery and development services.

"What we try to do is come up with novel approaches to awide range of targets," says Ashton. "And we believe that the fragment-basedapproach is capable of identifying novel compounds against targets that mightnot be amenable to more traditional approaches, like high-throughputscreening." Fragments, says Ashton, may not be appropriate for high-throughputscreening because of weak interactions with proteins.

Evotec's EVOlution platform screens fragments—compounds oflow molecular weights—then characterizes how they bind with target proteins.FBDD also analyzes structure early in the process, says Ashton, and "you canget improvements in biological activity far quicker when you start with afragment." EVOlution uses a fragment library of 20,000 compounds, and X-raycrystallography to examine binding and optimization potential.

Evotec chose FBDD for its inaugural Innovation Centrebecause the FBDD concept has become more accepted, says Ashton, noting thatAstex Therapeutics and Abbott Laboratories also use FBDD. Evotec has activelyused FBDD in developing central nervous system expertise, including programsthat it hopes to partner with pharmaceutical companies.

Evotec plans to work on additional indications, includinginflammation, oncology, and metabolic disorders, probably looking for partnersto develop leads. "Evotec is a very partner-focused company," says Ashton."Everything that we do and every technology that we utilize and establish isreally aimed at supporting our partners." He estimates that Evotec works withroughly 150 clients each year. Partners include Celgene, Biogen Idec andPfizer.

A scientific advisory board of researchers from Englishinstitutions will help the FBDD Innovation Centre operate almost like a biotechcompany, according to Evotec. The five-member group includes Sir Ravinder Nath"Tiny" Maini, former director of the Kennedy Research Institute at ImperialCollege in London and a rheumatoid arthritis expert, and Dame Louise Johnson, astructural biology specialist directing life sciences at Diamond Light Source.

The advisory board is likely to complement internaltechnical expertise with support on target selection and programs foridentifying chemical matter. "We are excited and delighted that such wellregarded scientists have recognized the value of our FBDD technology and haveagreed to advise Evotec on the associated research and technology," saidEvotec's president and CEO, Jörn Aldag, in a prepared statement.

Additional innovation centers addressing furtherpharmaceutical industry needs will be announced in late 2007 or early 2008,says Ashton. Ashton can say little about the focus, though, adding only "Watchthis space."

Lisa Espenschade

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