The European Lead Factory, a public–private initiative for drug discovery launched in February, is ramping up. Its partners—initially a consortium of 7 pharmaceutical firms, 10 small- to medium-size companies, and 13 academic and nonprofit participants—will have access to approximately 500,000 chemical compounds and an ultra-high-throughput screening center.
The European Lead Factory, a public–private initiative for drug discovery, debuted in February and is now ramping up. Partners in the initiative—currently a consortium of 7 pharmaceutical firms, 10 small- to medium-size companies, and 13 academic and nonprofit participants—will have access to approximately 500,000 chemical compounds and a leading-edge screening center with ultra-high-throughput robotics.
During the 6-month ramp-up, industry and academic researchers are contributing compounds and screening assays to the Lead Factory for validation and possible selection. “Once we've established our processes for selection and transfer of assays, we will recruit assays from contributing third parties outside the consortium,” says Ton Rijnders, PhD, head of screening for the Lead Factory and scientific director of TI Pharma. A nonprofit based in Leiden, the Netherlands, TI Pharma provides oversight for the project.
More than half of the compounds in the Lead Factory's collection will come from participating pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca AB in Sweden, Bayer Pharma AG in Germany, H. Lundback A/S in Denmark, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals in Belgium, Merck KGaA in Germany, Sanofi in Germany, and UCB Pharma SA in Belgium.
“This will definitely be a library of higher-quality molecules that will likely afford more interesting results than other screening initiatives,” says Lead Factory partner Huib Ovaa, PhD, a biochemist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.
Ovaa is contributing novel compounds and plans to use the screening facility for research related to his lab's focus on cancer therapy associated with proteasome activity.
Whereas pharmaceutical partners will perform screens internally, public screens requested by academic partners will be performed at a screening center in the Netherlands. The facility, originally designed for Merck but donated to one of the Lead Factory partners, Pivot Park, employs ultra-high-throughput robotics and will provide industry-level evaluation of compounds for activity against new targets.
“This is a unique machine that cannot be found anywhere else,” says Ovaa. “With the Lead Factory, you have access to the best of everything.”
After running screens for a target, the Lead Factory will provide the target owner with a “qualified hit list” of compounds that fit the desired criteria in terms of activity, selectivity, and other factors. From there, “the target owner is in the driver's seat,” says Rijnders. “But we encourage them to explore drug development options with the pharmaceutical partners in the consortium, who are participating for several reasons, one of which is to have early access to innovative targets.”
Funding for the initiative comes from the partners and from the Innovative Medicines Initiative of Brussels, Belgium, a joint undertaking between the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations.
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