Sanofi and AstraZeneca have struck a deal in which they will exchange 210,000 chemicals from their respective compound libraries. The goal is to enhance the diversity of each company’s collection, allowing them to explore a broader chemical landscape in search of new small-molecule drugs.
The unique agreement involves neither up-front payments nor downstream financial commitments if screening of an exchanged compound leads to a clinical candidate.
Both firms have shared their compounds with partners in other agreements, though in smaller, less-open exchanges. AstraZeneca shared 25,000 compounds with an unnamed agricultural chemical company and teamed with Bayer in 2011 to share compounds in a licensing deal. Earlier this year, Sanofi formed a partnership with Evotec under which the two compiled compounds from their libraries for use by other firms in hit discovery.
The new partnership is unique primarily because of its no-strings-attached premise, says Steve Rees, vice president of screening sciences and sample management at AstraZeneca. Once Sanofi’s compounds are in his lab, he says, “they are for all intents and purposes AstraZeneca compounds.”
Although methods have advanced over the past decade, the basic practice of screening vast compound libraries is still essential to drug discovery, according to Rees. AstraZeneca has a library of more than 2 million compounds, he says, and 60% of the projects in the company’s discovery and clinical pipeline derive from it.
The free exchange, he says, is based on the understanding that success in screening results not so much from the chemicals but from the quality of bioscience to ensure that the right drug targets are selected. Expanding and diversifying the library through the exchange greatly enhances the chance for success, Rees says.
But agreeing to an open exchange requires cultural adjustment. “Pharma has staunchly viewed the compound collection as the crown jewels,” he says. “Finding a company willing to acknowledge that those crown jewels can be used in a different way was a big challenge.” AstraZeneca spoke with several potential partners and found Sanofi not only willing to share but also in a position to exchange a large number of compounds.