1:45 PM
Dec 07, 2016
 |  BC Innovations  |  Strategy

The Sharing Economy

Pharma is opening up its libraries to draw in external partners

Arguably the biggest indicator that pharmas have shed the isolationist, know-it-all attitudes that drove their strategies for decades is the growth of compound-sharing initiatives to spur drug discovery. A handful of companies is leading the way in rethinking the risk of disclosing once highly guarded information, positioning the exchange of assets for expertise as the acme of open innovation.

In opening their libraries to the external community companies are all but acknowledging their own limitations, inviting others to find fruit where they themselves failed.

The programs fall under the umbrella of open innovation - a strategy to share knowledge and expertise between institutions that is fast becoming the new vogue in big pharma. At least 12 pharmas have formal programs, which involve a range of activities that bring academic researchers closer in contact with company scientists.

But while barriers have been lowered, the last bastion of company secrecy has been compound structures, which form the core of much IP value.

Now, at least 16 companies are taking the approach that there’s little value in having IP locked up in libraries of compounds sitting on shelves. Instead, they’re betting that they can compete on the downstream activities between finding a hit and making a drug, if the outside community can use its collective knowledge about target biology to generate better hits in the first place.

Best to share

The wave was kicked off by GlaxoSmithKline plc in 2010 with the launch of its Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation to provide the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) access to a library of about 13,500 compounds with potential to treat malaria.

Since then, AstraZeneca plc has been the most prolific: the pharma has engaged in four deals that involve sharing more than 200,000 compounds with dozens of academic organizations, disease foundations or other companies.

In addition, the pharma launched its Open Innovation platform in 2014 in which it allows outside researchers access up to 250,000 compounds for target screening through an online application process.

The company has placed the strategy front and center in its mission to tap into external talent to build its pipeline.

“We want to be the company that people want to go to in order to collaborate in the drug discovery space. The best way is to put some skin in the game.”

Garry Pairaudeau, AstraZeneca

“We want to be the company that people want to go to in order to collaborate in the drug discovery space. The best way is to put some skin in the game,” said Garry Pairaudeau, head of external sciences at AstraZeneca.

Moreover, the company is going beyond working with academics and not-for-profits in multilateral agreements. Last year, it entered a collaboration with Sanofi to exchange a combined 210,000 compounds, giving both companies access to a wider range of chemical starting points from which to develop potential drugs.

For GSK, the initial impetus was to drive drug discovery in malaria and other diseases lacking a strong financial imperative, according to Lon Cardon, SVP of alternative drug discovery and development. But he thinks there’s potential to use compound sharing in high-value disease areas where the industry has struggled to produce new therapeutics.

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