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Some ‘godly’ intercession for therapeutic R&D
LONDON—January 25 brought news that three global pharmaceutical companies—AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson, along with the technology transfer offices (TTOs) of Imperial College London, University College London and the University of Cambridge, have joined forces with a combined £40 million (approximately $57.3 million) to create the Apollo Therapeutics Fund.
As the partners put it, “This pioneering new joint venture will support the translation of ground-breaking academic science from within these universities into innovative new medicines for a broad range of diseases.”
The three industry partner companies—specifically, AstraZeneca UK Ltd., Glaxo Group Ltd. and Johnson & Johnson Innovation-JJDC Inc.—will each contribute £10 million over six years to the venture. The universities’ TTOs will each contribute a further £3.3 million. The aim of Apollo is to advance academic preclinical research from these universities to a stage at which it can either be taken forward by one of the industry partners following an internal bidding process or be out-licensed. The three industry partners will also provide R&D expertise and additional resources to assist with the commercial evaluation and development of projects.
Drug development is extremely complex, costly and lengthy, the Apollo partners notes; currently only around 10 percent of therapies entering clinical trials reach patients as medicines. By combining funding for promising early-stage therapeutics from leading UK universities with a breadth of industry expertise, Apollo aims to share the risk and accelerate the development of important new treatments, while also reducing the cost.
Dr Ian Tomlinson, GSK’s former senior vice president of worldwide business development and biopharmaceuticals R&D and chief scientific officer of Domantis Ltd. has been appointed chairman of the Apollo Therapeutics Investment Committee (AIC), which consists of representatives from the six partners and will make all investment decisions.
The AIC will be advised by an independent drug discovery team (DDT) of ex-industry scientists who will be employed by Apollo to work with the universities and their TTOs to identify and shape projects to bring forward for development. All therapy areas and modalities—including small molecules, peptides, proteins, antibodies, cell and gene therapies—will be considered.
Apollo will be based at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst. Once funded, projects will be progressed by the DDT alongside the university investigators, with other external resources and also in-kind resources from the industry partners as appropriate. For successful projects, the originating university and TTO will receive a percentage of future commercial revenues or out-licensing fees and the remainder will be divided amongst all the Apollo partners.
“This is the first time that three global pharmaceutical companies and the TTOs of three of the world’s top ten universities have come together to form a joint enterprise of this nature, making the Apollo Therapeutics Fund a truly innovative venture,” commented Tomlinson, adding that Apollo provides an additional source of early-stage funding that will allow more therapeutics projects within the three universities to realize their full potential. The active participation of the industry partners will also mean that projects will be shaped at a very early stage to optimize their suitability for further development.
“The Apollo Therapeutics Fund should benefit the U.K. economy by increasing the potential for academic research to be translated into new medicines for patients the world over,” he concluded.
“This partnership aligns with our commitment to being an integral part of the research community in the U.K. and takes a highly innovative approach to sharing both the risks and the rewards of applied research,” noted AstraZeneca’s Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of the Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit.
“Efficiently bringing together drug discovery expertise, potential customers, funding and project management, along with rapid decision making and execution through the Apollo Therapeutics Fund is a unique and extraordinarily exciting and valuable proposition for any academic or company that wants to see early stage ground breaking therapeutic technology progress to the clinic for patient benefit and economic return,” added Iain Thomas, head of life sciences at Cambridge Enterprise, the University of Cambridge TTO.
“This an important new source of capital to progress IP from the outstanding research of these three world-class universities,” said Tony Hickson, managing director of technology transfer for another of the TTOs, Imperial Innovations. “We believe that the Apollo Therapeutics Fund will ultimately lead to the delivery of new medicines faster and cheaper, as well as generating new deal flow and licensing opportunities.”