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Big Data Collaborations Tackle Root of Drug Development Failures

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(Bloomberg) -- Drug development is a risky business, with an estimated 90 percent of compounds that enter clinical trials ultimately failing to reach the market.

Governments, academic groups and drugmakers have been seeking to improve those odds through partnerships that bring together the expertise of scientists in a broad array of fields, from biology to genomics. The goal is to identify biological targets for drugs and weed out failures before they reach human testing.

The latest such initiative comes from GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, all based in the U.K. The partners will establish the new Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation, to be located near Cambridge, England. By harnessing the latest advances in genomics and the growing ability to gather and analyze large sums of biological data, they seek to eliminate development of drugs that target the wrong biological pathways, pre-empting billions of dollars of wasted research spending.

“Maximizing our use of ‘big data’ in the life sciences is critical for solving some of society’s most pressing problems,” Janet Thornton, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute, said today in an e-mailed statement. “As biology becomes increasingly data-driven, pre-competitive collaborations such as the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation have become crucial for improving efficiencies, driving down costs and providing the best opportunities to deliver beneficial results.”

Similar Partnerships

This follows a similar project announced by the U.S. National Institutes of Health last month that the agency, together with 10 pharmaceutical companies and several non-profit organizations, is investing $230 million in the Accelerating Medicines Partnership. Oxford University also opened a Target Discovery Institute last year.

These partnerships have been spurred by disappointments in the development of high-profile experimental medicines, particularly for Alzheimer’s disease. By the time Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly & Co. announced their drugs had shown limited benefit for Alzheimer’s patients in late-stage testing, the industry and academia had spent more than $30 billion researching amyloid plaque in the brain, according to Chas Bountra, a drug discovery expert and head of the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford.

The latest collaboration near Cambridge will be supported by as many as 50 researchers drawn from the three founding organizations, and findings will be shared with the rest of the industry. The group may also grow to include other companies and organizations, according to London-based Glaxo, the U.K.’s biggest drugmaker.

“By changing our business model, taking a more open-minded approach to sharing information and forging collaborations like the CTTV, we believe there is an opportunity to accelerate the development of innovative new medicines,” said Patrick Vallance, president of Glaxo’s pharmaceuticals research and development.

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