It was announced this week that three of the world’s biggest
pharmaceuticals groups, AstraZeneca (AZ), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson
& Johnson (J&J) have teamed up with three of the UK’s top universities,
Cambridge University, Imperial College London and University College London
(UCL), to create a £40m fund to help turn promising scientific research into
The initiative, which is to be called the Apollo
Therapeutics Fund, is one of the clearest signs yet of the trend towards
greater collaboration among pharma groups and between industry and academia in
the search for new drugs.
Each of the three companies will contribute £10m, and
expertise, to Apollo over six years while the three universities will each put
in £3.3m via their technology transfer offices. All six parties will have a
seat on the committee which picks early-stage projects to invest in.
AstraZeneca, GSK and J&J will have first option to take
assets backed by the fund into clinical development, with a bidding process
among the trio to decide which gets the licence. Half the royalty income from
any successful drugs will go to Apollo with the rest paid to the university
where the product originated.
Apollo will employ its own team of drug discovery experts to
work with academics and the individual companies may also contribute additional
Investments are likely to range from tens of thousands of
pounds to a few million pounds on experiments to identify and validate
promising compounds. Such sums are tiny in comparison with the hundreds of
millions or even billions of pounds needed to get a drug to market. But greater
co-operation with pharma companies at the earliest stages of research could
make the entire development process more productive.
Apollo is the latest example of increased co-operation
between pharma companies and universities. It is hoped that the fund would add
to growing momentum behind life science investment in Britain, which has hit
record highs over the past two years after a long barren spell in the previous
decade. But whereas much of the investment has been in later-stage ventures,
Apollo could help ease continued funding shortages for early-stage research.
Cambridge, Imperial and UCL are among the world’s top five
universities for medical research but biotech entrepreneurs have long lamented
the mismatch between Britain’s strong science base and its relatively poor
record of commercialising new drugs. For example, Humira, the arthritis
treatment which is the world’s best-selling medicine with annual sales of about
$13bn, was discovered in Cambridge but commercialised by AbbVie of the US.
Labels: drug discovery, innovation, universities