Planting the seeds for R&D

MRC and MRC Technology launch new research center in U.K.

Lori Lesko
LONDON—Seeking to make significant strides in finding cures and therapies for unmet medical needs and enhance its presence in the global market, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and MRC Technology (MRCT) have launched the creation of a center devoted to fast-tracking the discovery and development of novel drugs.

Located within the MRCT Mill Hill North London facility, the Centre for Therapeutics Discovery (CTD) will not only build on the existing work of MRCT's Drug Discovery Group, but also provide the United Kingdom with a national drug discovery resource, the MRC announced April 2. The project is poised to take promising molecules and antibodies to clinical application by a partnership between the CTD, academic scientists and industry.

MRC Chief Executive Sir Leszek Borysiewicz says he believes projects like the CTD "represent the seed corn of the future UK economy by enhancing the UK's leadership position in the scientific and technical disciplines of early stage medicine discovery."

This initiative will enable UK scientists to tap into MRC's recently announced Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS) and collaborate with a high-quality drug discovery capability while retaining existing IP ownership, says Jonathan McGee, communications and marketing manager of MRC Technology.

With an operating budget of $8.8 million secured from a number of sources, including MRC funds and royalty income from any products, "money earmarked for the new center will fund infrastructure, scientists' equipment and cover the costs of CTD's work in support of collaborating scientists—but will not directly fund the academics, themselves," McGee says.

MRC Technology already houses drug discovery laboratories at Mill Hill "which will form the basis of the CTD," McGee says. Future plans include relocation into central London alongside the recently announced UK Centre for Research and Innovation (UKCMRI). The CTD is expected to create 30 to 40 additional jobs over the next 18 months to add to its current drug discovery lab workforce of 40.

The inception of the new initiative "came out of a clear need within academia for a dedicated translational mechanism to move basic research towards clinical benefit," McGee says. "In addition, the ongoing contraction in pharma has prompted a number of pharma companies to actively seek potential drugs to bring into their pipelines. CTD's novel research will have an impact on the healthcare of the UK and beyond."

The CTD will "act as a hub for drug discovery expertise, including antibody humanization and medicinal chemistry, and be available to any academic in the world with access to funding any collaborative project that fulfills a significant unmet medical need—such as malaria or tuberculosis," he says.

MRC Technology is the exclusive commercialization catalyst for the MRC, with two commercial products, Tysabri and Actemra, already on the market, McGee says. MRCT will commercialize the CTD-driven products as well.

Despite the parameters set for its inception, CTD projects will not be confined exclusively to diseases of poverty.

"Significant unmet need" is a broad definition "which means there is no current treatment, or that current treatments are significantly compromised by excessive toxicity or lack of efficacy limiting their utility in the general patient population," McGee explains. "The CTD will only take on diseases where there is significant detrimental effects on quality of life, or which are life-threatening."

CTD Director Justin Bryans says he looks forward to working with "the best academic scientists and developing the impressive drug discovery knowledge base that exists in the UK today. The CTD will offer an expertise in drug discovery that can be accessed by UK academics to translate their projects towards clinical benefit and provide a forum for education and training in the field of medicine research."

The CTD operation, which formally began last month, will create jobs in medicinal chemistry and biosciences, and partner its products with pharma and biotech companies worldwide, thus increasing the value of MRCT's basic research, Bryans says.

The long-range plan is for the MRC, MRCT and the CTD to work together like a well-oiled machine from conception of a new drug discovery based on MRC advances in science to commercialization and treatment. Any income MRCT generates goes back to MRC for further research.

Of the new CTD, MRCT CEO David Tapolczay stated, "For the first time, UK academics will have a dedicated center with which to collaborate and progress their science to deliver tangible clinical benefit."

Lori Lesko

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