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Made (better) in China: HD Biosciences/Organon sign research collaboration
December 2005
by Randall C. Willis  |  Email the author
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SHANGHAI—HD Biosciences announced in mid-November the signing of a collaborative agreement with Organon that will see the Chinese drug discovery and service specialist develop functional assays for several G-protein coupled receptors and ion channel targets discovered at the pharmaceutical company's Newhouse, Scotland facility. Although financial details were not disclosed, Organon executive vice president global research Dr. David Nicholson suggests that the deal is worth more than $1 million.
 
According to Nicholson, the functional assays will be used for high-throughput screening and will start with a total of five molecular targets. Each target has been selected on the basis of its potential for the discovery of innovative new treatments for central nervous system disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and pain.
 
To accomplish this goal, HD Biosciences will be responsible for efforts such as gene cloning, assay development, screening validation, and assay transfer. But as HD Biosciences president Dr. Xuehai Tan explains it, the two groups will work very closely together in all areas, including experimentation and project management.
 
While Organon is already present in China, with production facilities and developing pharmaceutical markets, the collaboration gives the company closer ties to the Chinese scientific community, which is experiencing dramatic growth.
 
"At Organon, we spend approximately 20% of our discovery budget with external partners," Nicholson says. "The major decisive factor in deciding which partner is most appropriate is their scientific expertise. We then look at the cost of the collaboration. In the present case, we looked for expertise in the delivery of screening assays. Scientists in China offered quality and scientific value for money."
 
At the same time, the deal is that much bigger for HD Biosciences.
 
"Biotech is a young industry in China," Tan says. "For us to be able to compete, we have to demonstrate the acceptance of our business and technology by global industry leaders. Also, collaboration and partnership play important roles for biotech companies in their early stage of development. HDB was looking for industry leaders to team up with for business."
 
This is one of the first deals focusing on scientific discovery and technical expertise from the Chinese side, he explains. While quick to admit the strengths HD Biosciences brings to the table can likely be found elsewhere, he suggests that the company brings a fresh perspective and force in biotech R&D and in drug discovery.
 
"Drug discovery is a field that needs input from many areas and collaborations," he adds. "It is very difficult for any one company to stand alone in this business, even large companies such as Pfizer or GSK. The talent pool in China is very deep in the areas of biotech and pharmaceutical research. The participation of Chinese biotech companies will definitely promote the progress of new drug development and will also help many companies to address the cost-reduction issues associated with drug discovery."
 
Organon has clearly taken this philosophy to heart. According to Nicholson the company is in the final stages of signing a second agreement, and is exploring collaborations in the area of natural products, as well as performing more of its clinical trials in China.
 
This type of globalization, Tan says, will benefit the growth of technology, basic sciences, and the pharmaceutical business around the world and will reduce the gap between industrialized countries and developing countries.
 
Code: E120512

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