A 30-partner consortium of industry and academic partners will transform two onetime Merck & Co. manufacturing plants in Europe into early drug discovery venues, in a €196 million ($265 million) project intended to translate basic research into new treatments ready for clinical trials.

The European Lead Factory will set up shop at BioCity Scotland in Newhouse, in space Merck closed in 2010; and in Oss, the Netherlands, shut down a year later. The consortium will study small molecules that will come both from in-house research and the corporate collections of seven pharma giants.

Merck and the other six pharmas—AstraZeneca, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson-owned Janssen Pharmaceutica, Lundbeck, Sanofi, and UCB Pharma—will contribute “at least” 300,000 chemical compounds by donating their chemical collections to Lead Factory. Another 200,000 compounds will come from academic researchers and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Both sources will comprise a new Joint European Compound Collection consisting of up to half a million compounds to be accessible to all project partners and to public organizations that offer new targets for drug discovery screening. Target proposals will be selected through competitive calls.

“This project will not only advance the chances of success in the discovery of new medicines by European researchers, but also add value by building research capacity in Europe,” Michel Goldman, executive director of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), which is supporting the project, said in a statement.

Repurposing drugs that failed to reach the market for their original indications has grown in acceptance within biopharma. IMI last month launched StemBANCC, an academic–industry partnership intent on discovering new drugs using human induced pluripotent stem cells. And last year, NIH’s year-old National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences launched the Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules pilot program, which matches researchers with 58 compounds that have undergone significant industry R&D, including safety testing in humans, from eight participating pharmas.

In 2011, the U.K.’s Medical Research Council solicited proposals by researchers for repurposing 22 AZ compounds. And a few weeks back, AZ gave access to 250,000 of its chemical compounds to Germany’s Lead Discovery Centre (LDC). LDC will screen the combined library to identify promising new targets, against which drugs will be advanced with in vivo proof-of-concept. “LDC and AstraZeneca will agree on a project-by-project basis on individual licensing terms for successful lead projects of high interest,” the partners said at the time.

At the Lead Factory, a new European Screening Centre will aid public contributors of the new targets in developing tests. Scientific management of the screening center will be overseen by Netherlands-based nonprofit Top Institute Pharma. Both the sites in Scotland and the Netherlands will run state of the art facilities for compound logistics and high-throughput screening to respectively handle the 500 000-strong compound library and to evaluate new compounds that are active against the novel targets.

Ten universities are members of Lead Factory. Five come from the Netherlands: Foundation Top Institute Pharma (Stichting Top Instituut Pharma), Leiden University, Radboud University Nijmegen, Stichting Het Nederlands Kanker Instituut, and University of Groningen. The other five are Germany’s Universität Duisburg-Essen and Max Planck Society; Technical University of Denmark; and the U.K.’s University of Dundee and University of Leeds.

Of the Lead Factory’s budget, €91 million ($121.9 million) will be provided as in-kind contributions from participating companies belonging to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Another €80 million ($107.2 million) will come from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), with the remaining €25 million ($33.5 million) to be contributed by non-EFPIA participants.

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