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Small (molecule) thinking in academia

A team at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has analyzed the status of small molecule drug discovery in academia in the U.S. and documented a large jump over the last six years, with the number of dedicated centers more than doubling during that period.1 The result has been an uptick in commercial activity at these centers, including new company formation and collaborations or licensing deals with biopharmas. Although some of these efforts have led to drug leads, the biggest potential impact of academic drug discovery may be in the generation of research compounds for pharmacological validation of new targets.

Going forward, key challenges include funding academia's drug discovery effort and overcoming potential valuation disconnects between academia and industry.

"The biotech revolution-recombinant protein and antibodies as drugs-was driven from academics into industry," according to Stephen Frye, a seniorauthor of the academic drug discovery analysis and director of the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

"A similar phenomenon is happening on the chemistry side, but in reverse,"added Frye, who was previously worldwide VP of discovery medicinal chemistry at GlaxoSmithKline plc.

"The expertise in small molecule drug discovery that has traditionally resided in industry is being integrated into academia. The result is that you've brought what industry is good at and juxtaposed it with innovative targets and disease-specific knowledge," both of which are areas of strength for academia, he said.

To quantify how the increased focus on academic small molecule drug discovery has played out to date,

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