Bid to end duplicate drug research

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A radical plan to end the "madness" of wasteful and pointless research by rival drug companies was outlined today.

The new initiative will promote freer and faster early stage drug development through collaboration rather than competition.

Central to the idea is banishing the secrecy tied to intellectual property (IP) that causes the same work to be duplicated even after it has led nowhere.

On Wednesday around 30 academics, research funders and pharmaceutical industry representatives from around the world meet in Toronto, Canada, to hammer out plans for the new model.

The objective is to launch a prototype scheme by the end of the year at an estimated annual cost of around £124 million.

Neuroscientist Dr Chas Bountra, head of the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford University, who is organising the conference, believes the pharmaceutical industry is in crisis.

Speaking in London today, he pointed out that under the present system different organisations can spend many years and enormous amounts of money chasing the same therapeutic targets.

The work can continue even after results that are never shared show that it is futile and will never provide a useful outcome.

More than 90% of the molecules investigated by drug companies fail at the Phase II trial stage, when their effectiveness is tested on patients, said Dr Bountra.

"It's absolute madness," he said. "All these organisations are working in parallel on the same disease, the same target, and one by one these assets fail.

"We're proposing a public/private initiative to work on completely novel targets and take these molecules as quickly as we can into patients. But we're going to do all of this completely in the absence of IP."

The scheme, currently known as POC (Public/private partnership, Open innovation, Clinical consortium), would ensure that all pre-Phase II research results are publicly accessible.

"What we will do is publish that data immediately and hopefully we'll stop other organisations doing the same and repeating these studies with their own assets," said Dr Bountra. "This will save resources and, importantly, prevent exposing patients to medicines that will fail."

Only after a therapeutic molecule has been shown to work in a Phase II trial will the private companies involved have the opportunity to compete.

At this point, a "race" to the market will begin as different players take the research on to produce finished products.

The overall aim was to pool capabilities and risk while taking away "the barriers to collaboration", Dr Bountra said.

Recent events - such as Pfizer's decision to close its research facility in Sandwich, Kent - had shown that a new approach was not only desirable but vital to the future of drug development in the UK, he said.

He said it would also encourage more research in riskier areas such as neuroscience, which are seen as too much of an economic gamble by many private companies.