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Reconstructing drug discovery

Prof Chas Bountra ( Professor of Translational Medicine, Head of Structural Genomics Consortium, Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford University )

Despite large investments by governments, charities and the private sector, “pioneering” new medicines remain scientifically challenging and costly to produce.  With a price tag of about £1Bn for each new medicine and with many drug discovery programmes failing in early clinical studies, we need to take a different approach. There is a huge opportunity for improving our success rate by minimising parallel efforts in early phases across academia, biotech and pharma.

Several public, charitable and private funders (currently 9 large pharmaceutical companies) have pooled their resources and expertise to establish the SGC. This “public private partnership (PPP)” based at the Universities of Oxford and Toronto is generating novel, freely available reagents for drug discovery. The group works closely with a network of more than 300 academic labs across the world, to exploit these reagents in basic science and drug discovery. All findings are rapidly disseminated.

The impact of the SGC has been profound. Working together we have solved 25% of all human protein structures (“shapes”). We are now creating small molecule inhibitors, “prototypic medicines” which are made freely available to help all partners and scientists across the world, understand the mechanisms underlying human diseases. These pre-competitive efforts have resulted in new proprietary programmes inside pharma, the establishment of new biotechs, and are enabling science on a grand scale.

We are now aiming to build a new PPP, to advance novel targets through to completion of early (Phase IIa) clinical studies, with once again immediate sharing of data and knowledge. We believe this model represents a more efficient path for pioneer drug discovery, will reduce duplication and the needless exposure of patients to molecules destined for failure, and will potentially transform the way we discover new medicines for patients.

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