Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Techniques to accelerate the drug discovery process

We at Prize4Life are primarily concerned with accelerating translational ALS research—indeed, our organization and programs are shaped around the mantra of acceleration. ALS patients, like patients of many other diseases, have no time to spare. I want to share some other recent innovative techniques that have caught our attention for helping to propel drug discovery, an infamously difficult, expensive, and lengthy process. We are always looking for new ideas and approaches that we can adapt for ALS, so if you see something that sounds promising and fits within our framework, please shoot us an e-mail. Here’s the latest:

A recent Nature article discusses the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest non-governmental funder of biomedical research, which has a 5-year Seeding Drug Discovery Initiative (SDDI). Launched in October 2005, the program is designed to facilitate the development of drug-like small molecules that address unmet medical needs. “We consider projects in all disease areas, from any originating environment,” says Richard Davis, the business development manager at the Trust in the Nature article. “A project could be from an academic institution, a spin-out company or even an established pharmaceutical company because we ultimately base the decision [to grant an award] on the excellence of the science.”

Since 2005, the Trust has given out £80.4 million in 30 different grants (to 19 academic institutions and 11 companies). The support covers a variety of therapeutic areas, and company beneficiaries have primarily been small biotechs who have been struggling in the current unfavorable funding climate. Like Prize4Life, SDDI is a results-based initiative that aims for sustainability so that “projects to progress to a stage whereby there is sufficient evidence to make the project results, intellectual property and outcomes attractive to follow-on developers or investors who may be from the commercial or not-for-profit sectors.”

The Wellcome Trust and SDDI generally encourage the use of Contract Research Organizations (CRO’s) because they are efficient and cost-effective, saving the Trust from having to expend resources on infrastructure for every project they fund. This emphasis on leveraging CRO’s and outsourcing is also an important trend we have blogged on recently: see it here.

Another recent innovative translational research effort we have been following is a joint venture between three large pharmaceutical corporations. Merck, Pfizer, and Eli Lilly have announced plans to create a charity to research cancers in Asia. The new charity will develop a database of data derived from lung and gastric cancer samples, and make it available to cancer patients and scientists worldwide. "Through its work and the subsequent sharing of information, the Asian Cancer Research Group hopes to empower researchers, foster innovation and improve the prognosis and treatment of patients with cancer,’’ said Gary Gilliand of Merck Research Laboratories in an article.

Finally, the Chronicle of Philanthropy has recently reported on the increasing number of charities who have gone into the drug-development business, lowering the risk assumed by drug companies in the treatment of rare diseases. Like Prize4Life, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and a number of others are increasingly collaborating with pharma and biotech to assume some of the risk of drug development, and hoping that those collaborations propel advancements that may otherwise be a long time in coming.

Let us hope that these creative approaches have the desired effect of hastening drug discovery for ALS and other diseases.

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