7 major pharmas unite with academics in €196M discovery effort

Europe's pharma community is revving up a drug-discovery engine. A new effort involving 30 partners--including Bayer, Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen and 5 other large pharmas--has launched to spark discovery of new treatments, using a crowd-sourcing and open innovation approach.

Drugmakers seldom suffer from a lack of compounds to screen for drug leads, yet investments and expertise in disease biology have been in shorter supply. With the newly created European Lead Factory, the 7 large drug partners plan to contribute at least 300,000 compounds, and academics and other collaborators plan to develop about 200,000 more compounds. The goal is to share knowledge among participants in the effort, a strategy that stands in stark contrast to the secretive ways pharma groups have traditionally done drug research.

"It's a big change for companies because their compound libraries have usually been kept very secret," said Ton Rijnders, scientific director of the Dutch nonprofit TI Pharma, as quoted by Reuters. "They are doing this because it is cheaper than building ever larger libraries on their own--and partnering with academics gives them access to innovative ideas."

Indeed, pharma groups have become more open to working with external groups to reverse negative trends in drug R&D. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), backed by €1 billion from the European Union, is supporting this new drug-discovery effort and has made progress getting Big Pharma outfits to join forces. For instance, the IMI supported the drive announced in December with 10 major drugmakers led by Roche ($RHHBY) to develop human disease models with stem cells to aid research on drugs for neurological diseases and diabetes.

For this latest €196 million effort, €80 million come from the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and the remaining budget from the drugmakers, universities and other partners. TI Pharma is coordinating discovery efforts. The 7 major drugmakers include AstraZeneca ($AZN), Bayer, Lundbeck, Janssen, Merck KGaA, Sanofi ($SNY) and UCB Pharma.

- here's the IMI release
- read Reuters' article

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