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The Future of Drug Discovery - Open Innovation

posted 19 Dec 2014 by Michael O'Hagan

Last week Oxford Biotech ran a great conference on “The Future of Drug Discovery: Open Innovation”. A top line-up of speakers from academia and industry gave their views on how open innovation drug discovery is developing and what the opportunities are for the future.

What is open innovation drug discovery…?

Much early stage drug discovery has traditionally taken place behind closed doors. Groups work to identify a drug target and find chemical structures that modulate its activity. As these groups are in competition, details of targets and chemical spaces under study are often left undisclosed. If a promising lead is found, it’s likely to be patented, granting the group exclusive rights over the intellectual property. This is understandable - it takes a lot of time and money to get to this point. Previous assumptions were that the patent protection gives the group time to turn the lead into a clinical molecule, recoup their investment and make profit.

But there’s a growing consensus that this might not be the best way forward, at least not all the time. Working in this closed way means that exploring blind alleys in one research organisation may be duplicated by another. Since so many drug candidates fail at the clinical trial stage (check out this paper) this duplication is clearly extremely inefficient.

Open innovation is that idea that certain stages of the drug discovery pipeline are carried out in a collaborative, non-competitive way. Sharing knowledge and know-how at the early stages reduces wastage and duplication of effort later on. Thanks to the pooling of resources from industry, academia and patient groups, the competitive process to develop a marketable drug can begin from a much more viable starting point.

So what did the six speakers have to say about open innovation?

From the University of Oxford, Professor Andrew Hamilton (Vice Chancellor) spoke of some key developments that cement the University’s role as a centre for drug discovery. These include the Target Discovery Institute, The Precision Cancer Medicine Initiative and the Kennedy Institute. Links between these cutting-edge research centres, the city of Oxford and wider industry will drive innovation in new medicine development in the coming years.

Next followed three speakers from the pharmaceutical industry. The theme of their talks? How their organisations are adapting to include open innovation in their business models.

Dr Trevor Howe spoke about Janssen’s Innovation Centres and JLABS. Based in the US, JLABS provide entrepreneurs with kit, infrastructure and management to bring innovative ideas to fruition. Dr Mark Whittaker (Evotec) argued that ‘closed innovation’ doesn’t always create value, as many small-molecule patent applications are not granted. Evotec now take novel concepts from academia and push them through their well-developed drug discovery platform. Dr Hitesh Sanganee discussed AstraZeneca’s Open Innovation web portal. Launched back in March, this is a one-stop shop for anyone to find out what compounds and targets are available for collaborative work with AZ. Already, innovative solutions to difficult problems have been posed from bright students and early-career researchers as well as seasoned professors.

Professor Birgitte Andersen then spoke about some of the work of the Big Data Institute in supporting and developing policy to turn the UK into a global innovation hub over the next decade.

Professor Chas Bountra gave the final talk - a tour-de-force of the success of the Oxford SGC open innovation model. In making all their reagents and know-how available, free from patents and IP, the SGC are able to collaborate extensively with academia and industry across the world. This access to a vast range of industrial groups, clinicians and patients has unearthed applications of SGC work to diseases far beyond the initial project focus.

ChemBio Hub: our place in open innovation

Professors Hamilton and Bountra were clear: Oxford is a leading centre for open innovation drug discovery in the UK. Our research generates a vast quantity of reagents, data and know-how that can drive innovation in the development of new medicines. ChemBio Hub will collect this knowledge into one place. Drug discovery organisations will have a single location where they can find the Oxford research they need to know about. We’re already talking to pharma and biotech about how they can become involved and what they need from the project. Ultimately, ChemBio Hub will connect the right people so that they can create mutually beneficial relationships. The effect? Increasing the role of Oxford research in innovation and speeding up the drug discovery process.

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