Pfizer, GSK, AZ and BMS join digital drug design drive to weed out nonviable molecules

Pfizer CEO Ian Read

A clutch of big-name drugmakers have teamed up to digitize the drug formulation development process. AstraZeneca ($AZN), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer ($PFE) are involved with the initiative, which is aiming to develop digital tools and processes that spot nonviable molecules earlier in development.

Process Systems Enterprise (PSE), a provider of modeling software, is leading the four-year, £20.4 million ($29.3 million), government-funded gambit with support from the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP), which was set up in 2014 by a pair of U.K. trade groups. Big Pharma players and academic centers are also involved. The goal of the scheme, dubbed ADDoPT, an acronym of Advanced Digital Design of Pharmaceutical Therapeutics, is to tap into big data, mechanistic modeling and process optimization skills to improve how drugs are designed.

"Instead of doing a lot of very expensive trial and error in the lab and in manufacturing design, ADDoPT will be developing the use of computer modelling and design tools to help plan the design and manufacturing process from raw materials through formulation, manufacturing and quality testing," University of Leeds Professor Kevin Roberts said in a statement. "The idea is to identify and eliminate non-viable drugs as early as possible in the process and concentrate time and resources on the right things."

PSE has bagged the support of the government for the initiative on the strength of its potential to result in the U.K. gaining an edge as a location for formulation development and production plants. As blockbuster drugs lost patent protection over the past decade, the pill-punching plants set up in the U.K. by Big Pharma companies to churn them out became less and less financially attractive, leading to the retreat of manufacturing. It is hoped ADDoPT can lure companies back to the U.K. by showing it can save them time and resources through the use of advanced digital capabilities.

- read PSE's release
- and Leeds' statement