22 July 2015

  |  CBI Updates Team


At AstraZeneca, collaboration and openness are key to developing new medicines

Europe's Innovative Medicines Initiative is a great example of how public-private partnerships involving business and universities can transform the way in which new medicines are developed.

At AstraZeneca, collaboration and openness are key to developing new medicines

AstraZeneca is one of the major participants in the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) programme, a €5.3bn in partnership between the European Commission (EC) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).  The aim of the IMI is to improve health by speeding up the development of innovative medicines in areas of high unmet medical need. It does this by enabling collaboration between the key players in healthcare research – a great example of how public-private partnerships can transform the way in which the pharmaceutical sector develops new medicines.

One of the projects funded by the IMI is the European Lead Factory (ELF), a novel, open-innovation platform that is a major boost to drug discovery in Europe. ELF gives European researchers from all industry and academic sectors unprecedented access to industry chemical compound collections and facilitates the translation of their findings into future treatments for patients. AstraZeneca is among the 30 partners in the consortium, along with academic institutions such as the universities of Leeds, Nottingham and Dundee, major pharmaceutical companies and smaller life science companies across Europe. ELF has a total budget of €196m, with €80m coming from the EC, €91m from EFPIA and €25m in contributions from non-EFPIA partners.

European academics and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) now have access to a top-notch discovery platform that offers access to a collection of up to 500,000 compounds (derived from new public and existing private company collections) and a screening centre. Submitters of promising targets can also choose to partner with participating companies such as AstraZeneca, accessing the resources and support needed to progress all the way to drug trials. Additionally, AstraZeneca has the rights to screen the whole collection for 24 internal drug targets. The identified chemical entities can then be pursued internally by the company under the same conditions as the external target owners.

Dr Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice-President of AstraZeneca’s Innovative Medicines & Early Development Biotech Unit. says:

“The European Lead Factory is a great example of how companies like AstraZeneca are supporting new ways of working with SMEs, leading universities and other pharmaceutical companies. By openly sharing our compounds, insights and experiences we are helping to create a more open, more permeable research environment. This will not only help to strengthen the life science industry in the UK, but more importantly enable us to accelerate the discovery and development of the next generation of life-changing medicines that patients need.”

Adam Nelson, Professor of Chemical Biology at University of Leeds, who was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of ELF, says:

“By participating in ELF along with major pharmaceutical companies and SMEs, we are able to ensure that our innovative chemical approaches can yield high-quality starting points for drug discovery programmes. Crucially, universities and smaller companies can access the compound collection, together with support and resources, enabling their research to have greater impact."

Dr Phil Jones, Director of the European Screening Centre, Newhouse, University of Dundee, explains: 

"Our ultimate goal is to harness the innovation of academia, the agility of SMEs and the experience of pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative medicines that treat diseases with unmet medical needs.  Such a tough challenge can best be solved in a collaborative manner. This is an outstanding opportunity for European scientists from academia and SMEs to benefit from a ‘state-of-the-art’ drug discovery platform and help us reach this goal."