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Lilly collaboration with outside researchers yields first deal

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Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. has struck its first deal under an open-collaboration program launched last year to evaluate the potential of compounds synthesized in university and biotech labs.

After receiving data on more than 30,000 compounds from researchers in 26 countries, the first collaborative agreement was reached in its own back yard, with University of Notre Dame researchers Marvin Miller and Garrett Moraski.

They‘ll work with Lilly scientists for at least the next year to discover the potential of the Notre Dame compounds to starve the blood flow to tumors.

While there’s nothing new about collaborations with outside researchers, Lilly’s Phenotypic Drug Discovery Initiative, or PD2, is to provide a more convenient entry point for outside researchers into Lilly’s drug-discovery and -development process.

It allows the drugmaker to establish relationships with outside scientists that may not have worked with Lilly before. The ultimate goal is finding a promising compound, which an outside researcher might otherwise leave on the shelf, and turn it into the next blockbuster drug.

PD2 consists of a secure Web portal that researchers use to submit the structure of their compounds for an initial computational analysis by Lilly. If it shows promise, a researcher is invited to submit a biological sample for testing.

The outside researchers receive more extensive data on the compound’s biological profile than what generally is possible in academic or government labs, Lilly says.

In return, Lilly gets first rights to exclusively negotiate a collaboration or licensing agreement.

“This is the first of many” collaborations to be formalized in the months ahead, said Alan Palkowitz, vice president of discovery chemistry research and technologies at Lilly.

Lilly has about 70 of its own compounds in the pipeline at its labs worldwide. As research and development costs have risen, Lilly and its competitors have been forging alliances with outside companies—licensing their technologies or outright buying the firms.

The PD2 program’s approach is believed to be unique among big drug companies. About two-thirds of interest in PD2 so far has come from university researchers.

Traditionally, a pharmaceutical company might buy technology from a university lab and the relationship might end then and there, Notre Dame’s Miller said.

He says Lilly’s approach goes beyond a financial transaction in that his team has received valuable data from Lilly – 90-some pages from the analysis of Notre Dame’s compound that originally was synthesized to treat tuberculosis.

“The intricacy of the data was really rich from a researcher’s point of view,” said Miller’s colleague, Moraski.

Such data can be used as part of further research and can improve the odds of a researcher's landing a federal grant, as well.

“Our upfront transaction currency is not money. It’s actually data,” said Lilly’s Palkowitz.

The Notre Dame researchers will work directly with Lilly scientists for the at least the next year, something Moraski, who is passionate about finding ways to combat cancer, finds rewarding as well.

Such collaborations help Lilly leverage the expensive investment it has made over the years in its assay system to evaluate compounds to treat Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis.

One of Lilly’s best-known products, the cancer drug Alimta, stemmed from a collaboration with Princeton University researcher Edward C. Taylor. The drug rang up sales of more than $2 billion last year.

 

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