Open Innovation in early drug discovery

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Sir Alex Ferguson, in the opinion of many Manchester United football fans, is never wrong. Or, perhaps not.

In a recent interview, Sir Alex Ferguson commented on the media’s presence around the training ground and how it makes it difficult to keep tactics a secret. He said:

“You’re simply protecting the possibility of your success. For instance, do ICI (AstraZeneca) send an email to Bayer chemicals telling them their new discoveries in drugs…? Do the major companies tell their opponents what they’re doing? I’m sure they don’t.”

At AstraZeneca we actually think that collaboration with colleagues in academia and peer companies can help to benefit patients. And we are actually doing it. Open Innovation lies at the core of what we do and we’re giving access to our scientific assets in partnership with external researchers.

AstraZeneca is in fact collaborating with Bayer Pharmaceuticals, to share our great science and compound assets. AstraZeneca & Bayer’s two-way collaboration was initiated within the CVGI iMed and has been running for several years. It involves each company using their internal drug discovery know-how and chemistry assets for targets proposed by the other company, to seek new starting points for drug discovery. You can find out more about this collaboration here.

AstraZeneca is also active in the establishment of further Open Innovation partnerships in early drug discovery. For example, both AstraZeneca and Bayer are part of a cross-Pharma collaboration with academics and SMEs, called the European Lead Factory. This is an IMI-funded drug discovery partnership in which seven pharma companies are making available thousands of their chemical compounds to each other and academics, across Europe. This could help enable each party to find new starting points for drug targets from chemistry they would not previously have had access to.

In the past couple of weeks we entered into a new collaboration with a leading player in the German life science landscape, Lead Discovery Centre (LDC), giving access to 250, 000 AstraZeneca chemical compounds. LDC will be responsible for screening the combined library to identify compounds that show activity against a portfolio of novel targets. They will then advance the most promising compounds through ‘hit-to-lead discovery’ to generate pharmaceutical leads with in vivo proof-of-concept.

Opening up AstraZeneca’s compound library to LDC could further increase the chances to successfully translate basic research findings into new medicines. LDC and AstraZeneca will agree on a project-by-project basis on individual licensing terms for successful lead projects of high interest.

These partnerships involve a level of openness that is contrary to many people’s perception of drug discovery companies. The way we research and develop new treatments for patients continues to evolve, but somehow, I can’t ever imagine Sir Alex Ferguson sharing his tactics with Roberto Mancini…