A global alliance of the world’s top translational health centers have teamed up to improve the rate at which academic research translates into new medicines.
If you look through recent published papers in high-impact journals, you may notice a trend. Most of the papers are not authored by a single group, but by multiple groups who share a common interest in the research topic. The authored collaboration may be between two different academic institutions, between public and private companies or any combination thereof. In fact, collaboration at all levels is becoming the norm, not the exception—as evidenced in the cover story on designing and building multidisciplinary academic labs, as well as throughout the rest of this month’s Academic Sourceguide.
“More than ever, collaboration has become a key success factor for researchers in our globalized world, especially in the high-risk and increasingly segmented field of early drug discovery, ” says Thomas Hegendoerfer, Head of Business Development & Operations at the Lead Discovery Center in Germany. “One cannot succeed in this field without pulling together multiple disciplines and expertise.”
The Lead Discovery Center is one of six of the world’s top translational health research centers to come together to form the Global Alliance of Leading Drug Discovery and Development Centres. The Alliance, formed in early 2013, also includes: The Centre for Drug Research and Development, Canada; The Scripps Research Institute, Florida; The Centre for Drug Design and Discovery, Belgium; Medical Research Council Technology, UK; and the Cancer Research Technology, UK.
These organizations are fully integrated translational centers capable of advancing drug discovery projects from idea to drug candidate with proof-of-concept. The aim of the Alliance is to strengthen the international academic and/or not-for-profit drug development and commercialization network to ultimately improve the rate at which academic research is translated into new medicines. Together, the six founding institutions represent about 400 experienced drug developers collaborating with tens of thousands of academic scientists on more than 165 therapeutic projects targeting significant unmet medical needs.
Boosting academic research
“Our academic partners across the globe are the core of all our collaborative projects and the major pool for innovative drug discovery ideas,” says Hegendoerfer.
The number one objective of the Alliance is to increase the impact of academic research globally by improving the conversion of early technology into therapies. Hegendoerfer says academia is not lacking innovative targets or promising therapeutic approaches, but instead, it is lacking access to suitable funding solutions and marketable outlets.
To correct this, the Alliance will provide funding and better access to high-level technology, such as high-quality screening collections and MedChem resources, to support principal investigators (PIs) with promising projects.
The Alliance views PIs as a very important piece of the collaboration puzzle, as one of their objectives is to increase the number of first-class PIs working with Alliance member centers.
“Knowledgeable PIs, complemented by drug discovery and industry expertise, are instrumental in driving projects forward in a collaborative approach,” says Hegendoerfer.
Other Alliance objectives include increasing the number of licensed patents from academic sources, as well as increasing the number and visibility of spin-off companies from academia/universities.
Additionally, knowledge transfer into academia is an important part of the Alliance’s mission. Increasing academic researchers’ awareness of pivotal steps and aspects of the drug discovery and development process benefits all collaborative work in the long run.
“Academic researchers need to improve on providing reproducible data more often,” says Hegendoerfer. “For example, they need to address target validation differently, such as ‘chemical validation’ using compounds rather than siRNA to confirm a target-based hypothesis.”
For the biopharmaceutical industry, academics represent a major source of innovation. Numerous other alliances with many of the industry’s leading global companies have been established to further develop drug candidates and ultimately quicken time-to-market for life-saving drugs.
“The Global Alliance aims to position itself as a global access point for pharmaceutical companies looking for high-quality external innovation from academia to boost their drying-up pipelines,” says Hegendoerfer.
According to the Alliance, it is important to increase this number of significant risk-sharing collaborations between academia and pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. These kinds of collaborations are a step forward in bridging the gap between academic research and the needs of the pharmaceutical industry. Resulting innovations increase productivity, efficiency and, most importantly, benefit the patient.
While it is still early in the process to establish immediate projects, Hegendoerfer says one of their long-term visions is to build a central funding solution involving a number of corporate pharma as well as public funding bodies to provide funding for the most promising projects, which can then be developed at any of the Alliance centers.
“Pharma has to step-in and invest significantly or partner early with translational centers if they want to compensate their internal withdrawal from early drug discovery and ensure a stable flow of compounds for their future pipelines,” says Hegendoerfer. “It is going to be this pharma involvement, not venture capital money, that will play a significant role in closing the ever-growing innovational gap.”
The Global Alliance is actively searching for and accepting new member organizations. According to Hegendoerfer, they are going to formally meet at the BIO International Convention on April 22 to 25 in Chicago to discuss expanding their reach. Current possible candidates are from Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America.
The six founding organizations have come together to facilitate international cooperation, develop standards and performance measurements, share best practices, expertise and resources and ultimately advance the state of translational research and drug discovery and development. Therefore, it is important that any other Alliance member organizations share the same practices, values and goals.