Monday, March 29, 2010

Something in the water? Collaborative R & D picks up steam

At Prize4Life, we constantly (and sometimes obsessively) follow all the trends in research funding. We are pleasantly surprised by how many interesting models are emerging in response to a changing economic and social climate. Two recent blog posts (here and here) discuss some of our favorite examples. And we haven’t seen the end of it: a new article in Nature Medicine discusses how the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is “fostering synergies” in Parkinson's research by assembling an international consortium to focus on one particular drug candidate. An excerpt:

Under the terms of the two-year $3.5 million grant design, members of the nine-group LRRK2 consortium, which includes both academic and industry partners, will be compelled to share results and collaborate with one another on an ongoing basis to help accelerate therapeutic discoveries. By working together, “every lab is not reinventing the wheel,” says Todd Sherer, MJFF's vice president of research programs.

“You don't gain much by keeping things under wraps,” says consortium member Patrick Lewis of University College London. “Actually getting different people with different viewpoints and different techniques to work together in an open fashion rapidly speeds up progress.”

The MJFF joins other pharma-biotech-foundation collaborations, including one between the Wellcome Trust and the UK Medical Research Council (read a past Prize4Life blog on that here).

Recently as well, the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, the Critical Path Institute, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined forces to accelerate the discovery of a cure for TB. They have called their new operation the Critical Path to TB Drug Regimens (CPTR); it will test combinations of drugs from various companies to identify new treatment regimens, an approach which Reuters calls “almost radical”. The group has engaged researchers from FDA and companies such as Johnson & Johnson, sanofi-aventis, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Otsuka, Novartis, Sequella and Anacor Pharmaceuticals, Inc., reports FierceBiotech.

"This type of collaboration between the public and the private sector is exactly what's needed to help speed the availability of a shorter and more effective treatment for TB," said Dr. Tachi Yamada of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the FierceBiotech release.

Dr. Paul Stoffels of Johnson & Johnson echoed those sentiments in the same piece: "No single company or institution can do it alone […] Industry has to continue to focus on innovation and accelerate the discovery and development of new compounds with new mechanisms of action, and at the same time work in collaboration with regulators, non-profit organizations, and other partners to accelerate testing of new combination regimens as early as possible in development.” The piece cites the FDA’s “creative regulatory approach” of the 1990s, which was effective in accelerating treatments for the deadly virus.

The Critical Path Institute bills itself as an “independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to serve as the impartial facilitator of collaborative efforts among scientists from government, academia, patient advocacy organizations and the private sector” in order to “significantly improve public health.” Non-profit organizations are increasingly seen in these independent ‘mediator’ roles; indeed, Prize4Life’s strength is built on its lack of affiliation with a specific research agenda or disease model. Disease foundations are taking on ever more crucial--and visible--roles in collaborations.

Acceleration—and collaboration—does seem to be in the air, as the R&D industry struggles in a new economic climate, and is a phenomenon that Prize4Life has been following attentively. It is in everyone’s interest to safely accelerate research for the devastating diseases of the world. While our primary focus is, obviously, ALS, we can learn a lot from the funding and research models deployed for other diseases.

Like what you see? Leave us a comment. Have another great example of a research or funding collaboration? Email us and let us know!

1 comment:

  1. You can view a video that introduces the CPTR initiative here: