More private-public collaborations in the pharmaceutical industry seem to be springing up in the past couple years, and appear to offer great promise to the future of drug discovery and development. I like the trend that I see developing.
As reported in Medical News Today on April 9th, retiring Roche CEO, Bill Burns dedicated the opening of the new Italian Institute of Technology's Drug Discovery and Development Unit (D3) in Genoa, Italy. He said, to 100 industry leaders in attendance, a key to moving forward was to have "good interconnectivity" amongst public and private sector.
The Italian goverment is providing 12 M Euros over next 5 years to this initiative to provide funding for 70 staff, and is seeking industry collaborators. Sergio Dompe, President of Italy's pharmaceutical industry association, said "Collaborations between industry and academia, such as the model employed here at D3, are crucial to the success of the Italian pharmaceutical industry."
Dr. Daniele Piomelli, Scientific Director of D3, said, "We very much appreciate the interest of potential partners in our efforts to build a new model..................which focuses on uniting the creativity and innovation of academia with the focused and results-oriented culture of the pharmaceutical industry."
Not to be outshone by the Italians, India also announced a collaboration amongst students, leading scientists and multi-national IT companies to take on drug-resistant TB. As described in the Deccan Herald, the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) project has captured the imagination of more than 400 top students worldwide and induced them to volunteer for perhaps the world's biggest rational drug development project.
Under the organization of OSDD, these 400 students have been able to assemble the existing literature/data on TB (1st sequenced in 1998) to create the world's largest and most comprehensive database on the M. tuberculosis organism. That is - they gathered the tremendous amount of data that already existed!
The TB bug was already known to have 3998 genes. Through this student effort, at least one function has been identified for every gene, and at least one pathway has been associated with every gene. With this information, the consortium can look for therapeutic choke points along the pathways.
IT giants, HP, Sun, Infosys, and Nobel-winner Medicine sans Frontiereshave been recruited to develop drug candidates "in silico" - it's rational design remember. The first hit has already been transferred to an Indian pharmaceutical company for development. This extremely low cost projects has students excited to participate and is expected to yield many more molecular candidates. The students gain employment opportunities and experience, and top performers have also been awarded with HP laptops and the like for their insights.
Again, we're seeing novel approaches to old R&D problems that are attempting to address the shortfalls seen in recent Big Pharma pipelines and are at least examining alternatives to the way things have been done for the past decade.
I'll remind readers of announcements we've seen from various quarters that are looking at changing the "way things have been done". In February, Sanofi-Aventis announced an R&D collaboration with Aviesan - essentially a consortium of public sector instituions in France. Genentech made a similar announcement for a collaboration with UCSF on neurodegenerative diseases. Also in February, The Gates Foundation announced it would spend $10 B on new ideas to combat vaccines - looking at public sector and private sector solutions. Even Big Pharma announced an initial version of "open sourcing" collaboration when Merck, Eli Lilly and Pfizer announced their Asian Cancer Research Group. A bit more of a stretch here - but NIH and FDA agreed to work more closely on drug review toward quicker review of filings - combining scientific expertise and safety expertise.
This is CHANGE. Change is good when it recognizes failings in the current model, aims at amking improvements with sensible looking alternatives, and measures and evaluates those implemented alternatives for actual delivery of intended results. That's a solid approach.