Volume 91 Issue 7 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: February 18, 2013 | Web Date: February 14, 2013

Europe Invests $550 Million In Drug Discovery And Antibiotic Development

Pharmaceuticals: EU effort aims to revitalize drug discovery and development in Europe
Department: Business
Keywords: drug development, Europe, antibiotics
BioCity Scotland, in Newhouse, will screen drug candidates as part of the Lead Factory program.
Credit: BioCity Scotland
BioCity screening center in Newhouse, Scotland.
BioCity Scotland, in Newhouse, will screen drug candidates as part of the Lead Factory program.
Credit: BioCity Scotland

The European Union’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) has unveiled new programs to develop antibiotics and accelerate early drug discovery. The separate programs, which aim to revitalize drug design and development in Europe, feature public and private funding totaling more than $550 million.

IMI’s New Drugs for Bad Bugs, a joint program between industry, academia, and biotech organizations, will combat antibiotic resistance in the EU by promoting collaboration within the region’s antibiotic development community. The program will receive $300 million in funding from the European Commission and drug firms.

The lion’s share of the funds will go to Combacte, a project to create a clinical research system on antibacterial resistance. The program’s second project, Translocation, will investigate new pathways for getting antibiotics into bacteria.

“These new projects will give a fresh impetus to the search for new weapons to fight the drug-resistant pathogens that have already killed so many in Europe and elsewhere,” says Michel Goldman, IMI’s executive director.

A separate initiative, called the European Lead Factory, aims to accelerate early drug discovery and provide therapies for unmet medical needs. The EC and drug companies will provide the Lead Factory with more than $250 million in funding over five years. A consortium of 30 partners from academia, small firms, nonprofits, and drug companies will participate.

A key component of the Lead Factory is an effort to collect and screen more than 500,000 small molecules against potential biological targets. Seven drug companies will contribute more than 300,000 compounds; academia and smaller companies will provide the rest. Drug companies and a newly established European Screening Centre at sites in Newhouse, Scotland, and Oss, the Netherlands, will carry out the screening.

The efforts are ambitious, but not everyone is convinced they will have a major impact. Industry consultant Girish Malhotra, who counts pharmaceutical firms among his clients, points out that the investments are tiny compared with what a single big pharmaceutical company puts into drug discovery. The program does “not have enough money to identify and do any preliminary testing,” he says.

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Gerry Atrickseeker (Fri Feb 22 18:51:13 EST 2013)
For the last several decades infectious disease physicians have been warning about the ever-increasing prevalence of pathogens that are resistant to existing antibiotics. This includes some really scary organisms such as multidrug-resistant Enterococci and vancomycin resistant MRSA. Despite this rapidly evolving threat there has been relatively little research on new antibiotics within Big Pharma. Presumably the return on investment for this area is not attractive to the industry.

Thus it is cheering to learn that the European Union Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is preparing to invest $550M in drug discovery for new antibiotics. This seems a very timely move. Contemporary high speed DNA sequencing technology now allows genomes of bacterial strains to be analyzed with ease thus potentially leading to the identification of many potential new targets.

Despite somewhat of a surge in new drug approvals in 2012 (1) it remains clear that the purely profit driven model of Big Pharma is failing to address therapeutic areas that are vitally important to public health (2). Public-private partnerships with more interaction at the pre-competitive level, like the present IMI effort, may help fill those gaps.

(1) K. Jiang. Near-record number of approvals signals drug development shift. Nature Medicine 19:114 (2013)

(2) R.L. Juliano. Pharmaceutical innovation and public policy: The case for a new strategy for drug discovery and development. Science & Public Policy (epub ahead of print, 2013)

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