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Pharma firms open up drug libraries to UK researchers

AZ, GSK, Janssen, Lilly, Pfizer, Takeda and UCB partner with Medical Research Council
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The UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) has stepped up its collaboration with industry via a new agreement that will provide access to compound libraries from seven pharma companies.

The agreement with AstraZeneca (AZ), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Janssen R&D, Lilly, Pfizer, Takeda and UCB gives UK researchers access to a 'virtual library' of molecules, all of which have undergone some degree of development but are currently lying idle.

Typically, the "deprioritised" compounds failed to show sufficient activity against drug targets but "may still be useful against other diseases with shared biological pathways," according to the MRC.

The new initiative draws on the experience of an ongoing collaboration between the MRC and AZ, which has involved compound library access since 2011 and was recently expanded to include the establishment of a joint, public-private screening facility at the pharma company's R&D campus in Cambridge.

The earlier compound-sharing initiative has already shown that academic researchers can find value in projects discontinued by pharma companies and "re-purpose" them for new indications. For example, clinical trials are now underway in Manchester to see whether an AZ drug designed originally to treat gastro-oesophageal reflux disease can be used to treat chronic cough.

Moreover, as the compounds have already undergone preliminary development such as safety testing, any new treatments arising from the research could reach patients more quickly. A full list of available compounds will be published later this year, when UK scientists will be able to apply for MRC funding to use them in academic research projects.

The alliance with AZ has already resulted in £7m-worth ($12m) of funding awarded by the MRC to research projects in the areas of Alzheimer's, cancer and rare diseases, said Prof Sir John Savill, chief executive of the research organisation.

"By funding studies using these compounds, which otherwise would not be carried out, we will enable scientific breakthroughs that will improve the health of patients in the UK and worldwide," he added.

The expansion of the initiative is yet another example of a shift towards collaborative R&D in pharma, with drugmakers increasingly trying to forge ties with external researchers. 

GSK has taken the approach of running a drug hunter competition, while Janssen's parent Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has started setting up partnering units in close proximity to biomedical R&D hubs to tap into emerging projects and provide expertise and funding.

Meanwhile, last month the MRC and several UK universities joined with AZ, GSK and J&J – alongside a number of smaller companies - to launch a £16m dementia research programme, which aims to develop ways to detect people at risk of developing dementia as early as possible, improve therapy and ultimately find ways to prevent the disease.

Commenting on the latest announcement, Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said it represents "a fantastic example of open innovation that benefits both industry and academia."

"The ABPI and our members are committed to greater collaboration with UK researchers and the whole of the academic community to improve our understanding of diseases so that we can continue to develop life-changing medicines for the benefit of patients," he added.

22nd July 2014

From: Research

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