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European Lead Factory launched
March 2013
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author
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NOTTINGHAM, U.K.—The European Lead Factory, a novel platform for innovative drug discovery, has been launched by an international consortium of 30 partners. The partnership, said to be the first of its kind, is supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and aims to create "unprecedented opportunities" for the discovery of new medicines by providing public partners with an industry-like discovery platform to translate cutting-edge academic research into high-quality drug lead molecules on a scale and speed that was not possible previously.  
 
IMI was launched in 2008 by the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). With its $2.6 billion budget, IMI claims to be the world's largest public-private partnership in health research and development. The EU contributes $1.3 billion in cash through its Seventh Framework Programme, while EFPIA companies contribute $1.3 billion in kind to the IMI projects.
 
"We have launched 40 projects so far, and more are in the pipeline," says project spokesperson Catherine Brett.
 
Some projects focus on specific health issues such as neurological conditions (Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, depression, chronic pain, autism), diabetes, lung disease, oncology, inflammation and infection, tuberculosis and obesity. Others focus on broader challenges in drug development such as drug and vaccine safety, knowledge management, the sustainability of chemical drug production, the use of stem cells for drug discovery, drug behavior in the body, the creation of a European platform to discover novel medicines and tackling antimicrobial resistance. In addition to its research projects, IMI supports a number of education and training projects. All projects are submitted to a selection committee and are peer reviewed.
 
At the heart of the program is open access to a large collection of small molecules. Part of this collection will be contributed by pharmaceutical companies, and the other part will be a newly synthesized compound collection built by the consortium's small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and academic institutions using the integrated knowledge of all consortium partners and through open innovation and crowdsourcing.  
 
Screening of this compound collection will be performed within the pharmaceutical companies and by the newly established European Screening Centre. Stakeholders, including patient organizations and global health initiatives, are invited to contribute their knowledge and networks to the consortium to elevate the outcome of the early drug discovery process and to be part of the establishment of a new sustainable platform for early drug discovery.  
 
As part of the European Lead Factory, the seven participating pharmaceutical companies will contribute at least 300,000 chemical compounds from their corporate chemical collections. A library of an estimated additional 200,000 novel compounds will be developed jointly by academia and SMEs. Together, the two libraries will form a Joint European Compound Collection that will be accessible to all project partners and to public organizations offering promising new targets for drug discovery screening.  
 
The chemistry part of the consortium consists of five SMEs—Sygnature Discovery Ltd. (U.K.), Syncom BV (The Netherlands), Edelris SAS (France), Mercachem BV (The Netherlands) and Taros Chemicals GmbH & Co. KG (Germany)—and aims to contribute an estimated 200,000 novel compounds to the joint compound collection. Proposals will be submitted to a transparent selection and validation process addressing several criteria such as novelty, diversity potential and innovative design. Once approved, the SMEs together with the academic institutions will translate successful scaffolds into high-quality compound libraries to be shipped to the consortium's HTS facilities.  
 
The European Screening Centre will assist public contributors of novel targets in the development of tests compliant with the requirements of HTS screening. Sites in Scotland and the Netherlands will operate state-of-the art-facilities for compound logistics and high-throughput screening to handle the 500,000-strong compound library and to evaluate new compounds that are active against the novel targets. BioCity Scotland and the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance combined forces with Pivot Park Screening BV in Oss, Netherlands, Dundee University, the University of Oxford and TI Pharma to submit a proposal to the IMI that was selected and funded over competition from across Europe.  
 
The total budget for the European Lead Factory (not to be confused with IMI's $2.6 billion budget) is approximately $256 million. Of this, $105 million comes from the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and $119 million as in-kind contributions from the participating companies that are members of the EFPIA. The remaining $33 million comes from other contributions from non-EFPIA participants. Bayer HealthCare will be the coordinator from EFPIA. The Leiden, Netherlands-based non-profit organization TI Pharma will facilitate the overall scientific governance and is heading the European consortium's screening efforts. Taros Chemicals of Dortmund, Germany, is heading the European consortium's chemistry effort. If the project proves successful during its initial five-year funding period, the European Screening Centres and the teams of SMEs and academic institutions aim for a sustainable role in drug discovery and the future growth of drug discovery in Europe.
 
Code: E031307

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