Lilly's Expanding Initiatives
The most recent example of big pharma’s interest comes from Eli Lilly. Late last month Lilly said it will expand its open-source effort beyond its two-year-old Phenotypic Drug Discovery (PD2) initiative, in which molecules can be submitted by scientists outside the company for screening. The new target discovery program called TargetD2 will screen molecules designed to interact with specific genomic targets believed to be involved in disease pathogenesis.
Lilly also added late last month a component to its TB Drug Discovery Initiative that will screen molecules for their ability to fight MDR-TB. Members including the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) and NIH contribute in-kind resources; IDRI handles in vitro work to test compounds, while NIH helps as needed with in vivo and development resources as well as researchers developing assays, for example.
“This entire program is one that provides unprecedented access to novel molecules around the globe,” Alan D. Palkowitz, Ph.D., vp of discovery chemistry research and technologies with Lilly, told GEN. “As we’re working in the TB initiative as part of a not-for-profit, and we know some of the challenges for TB drug discovery are really centered on identifying novel sources of compounds for screening, it seemed like an ideal way to leverage this platform that we’re using for some of our internally derived drug discovery efforts.”
He said the success of the TB initiative could serve as a model down the road for additional collaborations aimed at rare and neglected diseases, which are not usually a focus for Lilly and other pharma giants.
Under the new TargetD2, as with PD2, investigators retain intellectual property rights to their molecules until a promising compound emerges. “If we see something very interesting from the data, we will ask the investigator to share the structure with us,” Dr. Palkowitz said.
“And then if we are convinced that we are seeing something very promising, then only at that point would we approach the institution and the investigator to actually exercise our first right of access.” If the institution and researcher agree, they’ll negotiate a collaborative arrangement to further optimize the science as well as milestone and royalty fees. “If the institution is not interested, they’re free to use the data whatever way they like, whether it be to publish, to put in a grant application, or to actually pursue the science on their own,” Dr. Palkowitz explained.
Lilly’s open-collaboration effort includes more than 250 institutions in 27 countries. “By having both the phenotypic module and the target-based module, it allows us to add more assays, add more areas that are of interest to us over time as our area of disease focus evolves and changes. It’s something that now that it’s in place, can be easily scaled over time,” Dr. Palkowitz remarked.
PD2 has disclosed two open-innovation collaborations, one in cancer and the other in diabetes. PD2 has “probably about six or seven active collaborations” in all when partnerships that have been signed, those being negotiated, and those in early stages of exploration are all counted, he added.
Big pharma’s appetite for open-source collaboration has been evident in the past few years. The industry’s apparent focus has been on research and discovery work. Some academic-based groups have also formed, which seem to concentrate more on discovery through clinical development along with data-sharing initiatives. A few examples of those efforts will be examined in a separate story in this section.