The reduction in the pharmaceutical R&D force has been in the news for the past several years, with well-publicized reductions by Pfizer and AstraZeneca, to name a few. However, the process of discovery has become, if anything, more complex over the years. Large pharma is no longer able to support stables of scientists that perform basic research but do not directly contribute to drug development. How to reconcile the need for information with the constraints of a reduced R&D force?
One solution has been for large pharma to collaborate on large projects that would be too resource-intensive for an individual company to undertake on its own. A recent article in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery highlights consortiums where several large pharmaceutical companies pool their resources to fund such research projects, usually based at an academic center, and share access to the fruits of the effort. For instance, the University of Dundee’s Division of Signal Transduction Therapy has been funded for over a decade by a changing set of companies that, in return, receive priority access to the Division’s research, platforms, reagents, and screening technologies. More recently, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca jointly funded a Centre of Inflammation Research at Manchester University in the UK. Dave Allen, Senior Vice-President of Respiratory Research at GSK, said in a press release, “The translation of basic research discoveries into new medicines is challenging, but we believe we improve our chances of success through collaborative science.”
Beyond the lab, pharmaceutical companies are working together to run clinical trials for combination therapies. Among the collaborations highlighted in the article is the one between HIV-developers Gilead and Tibotec. Gilead’s experimental drug cobicistat is being co-developed with Tibotec’s approved protease inhibitor darunavir for the treatment of HIV. Although not much is heard about it, in the clinical space there are still large areas where collaboration among pharmaceutical companies would be of benefit—for instance, during the expensive processes of validating clinical biomarkers and experimental medicine models.
Such collaborations are anti-competitive, and require communication as well as a certain amount of openness that have not traditionally been characteristic of the way that large pharma does business. However, with the understanding that science-based drug discovery is too expensive to do alone, I think we’ll see more collaboration in the future.
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