New £169.5m project to facilitate drug discovery

22 February 2013

Pharma, academia and small and medium-sized enterprises have announced a collaboration aimed at facilitating drug discovery. The European Lead Factory, backed by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), will collect and retain small molecules, comprising more than 300,000 substances, over the five-year term of the project.

Seven pharmaceutical companies - Bayer HealthCare, AstraZeneca, Lundbeck, Janssen, Merck, Sanofi and UCB - will together provide the molecules, while academic institutions and SMES will develop 200,000 compounds.

Speaking at the launch of the £169.5m project, Michael Goldman, executive director of the IMI, said: "This unique project is an excellent example of how a public-private partnership can transform the way in which the pharmaceutical sector identifies new medicines. For the first time, it will give European researchers unprecedented access to industry chemical collections and facilitate the translation of their findings into actual treatments for patients."

In spite of fears, the number of new drugs becoming available in the UK has been falling in recent years. Research by a team at Birmingham University and published in the BMJ Open journal concluded that, compared with the 1970s, there were in fact more new products being brought to market in recent years.

Analysing the British National Formulary guide to drugs between 1971 and 2011, the team found that, although there were peaks and troughs that saw as many as 34 new drugs in the highest year and just nine in the lowest, with the average being a little below 23, in the five years to 2011 there were 0.16 more products being developed than in the early 1970s.

"We started this research because there was a great deal of pessimism within the industry and among pharmaceutical companies about the number of new drugs that were getting to the market, said lead author Dr Derek Ward. "We found that looking at the data over the longer term there was a slight increase. This is obviously a good thing for patients, if more new medicines are becoming available."

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