Academia-pharma collaboration attracts £14.4million funding in the UK to accelerate drug discovery

Posted: 14 May 2012 | | No comments yet

The consortium includes six companies & will provide core support of £14.4 million…

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The University of Dundee and the Medical Research Council (MRC) are pleased to announce new funding of over £14million from a consortium of six pharmaceutical companies for continuing research on the development of new drug treatments for major global diseases.

The consortium, called the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT), includes six of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies — AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Merck-Serono (the Pharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA) and Pfizer — and will provide core support of £14.4 million to the DSTT over the four-year period from July 2012 – 2016.

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said, “Collaboration between the life sciences industry and academia is vital for the development of new treatments and leverages significant private funding into our research base. This investment will continue the excellent work taking place at the University of Dundee on major global diseases, helping to bring benefits for patients and the economy.”

Thought to be the world’s largest collaboration between the academic community and the pharmaceutical industry, the DSTT includes 15 research teams based at the University of Dundee. Thirteen of the teams are based within the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit and Scottish Institute for Cell Signalling (SCILLS) at the College of Life Sciences. Together, consortium scientists will continue early-stage research in multiple areas, including cancer, arthritis, lupus, hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.

Professor Sir Philip Cohen, co-founder of the DSTT, said, “Collaborations between academic laboratories and the pharmaceutical industry typically last a few years. Therefore to maintain and expand support for the DSTT from 1998 until at least 2016 is unprecedented and remarkable. It shows how valuable the collaboration has been for the pharmaceutical industry.”

The DSTT was founded in 1998, expanded in 2003 and renewed for a second time in 2008. With the latest third renewal, the DSTT will have attracted £50 million in funding since it started. It is widely regarded as a model for how academia and industry can interact productively and was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2006.

This new round of funding will secure 50 posts at Dundee for the next four years.

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said, “The DSTT collaboration is a unique and highly effective partnership that allows academic researchers to collaborate with leading pharmaceutical companies to maximise the translation of basic research towards clinical benefit. We are proud to continue our support of a project that is greatly accelerating pharmaceutical drug discovery programmes for major diseases.

“Sir Philip Cohen showed great foresight in setting up the DSTT and we are extremely grateful to him for his energy and commitment to this highly successful venture.”

The DSTT works to accelerate the development of new drug treatments for major global diseases including cancer, arthritis, lupus, hypertension and Parkinson’s disease in a market that is estimated to be worth £15 billion per annum and projected to reach £30 billion per annum by 2025.

The DSTT was founded by Sir Philip Cohen and Professor Pete Downes. From July 2012, the New Director will be Professor Dario Alessi with Sir Philip and Professor Ronald Hay acting at Deputy Directors.

Commenting on the renewal of the agreement, Professor Alessi said, “I am delighted that the agreement has been renewed, as this offers further potential for us to translate our recent research findings and ideas into new drug therapies for the treatment of many diseases.”

“The University of Dundee is committed to the translation of world class basic science for health and economic benefits. Renewal of this collaboration with six of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies is a vote of confidence in that strategy and in Dundee’s leadership position in biomedical research.”

On behalf of the pharmaceutical companies, Dr Malcolm Skingle CBE, of GlaxoSmithKline and Chairman of the Programme Management Group, said, “This has been a very successful collaboration over the past 14 years and we are delighted to see it continue. This project has shown the benefits that can come from pharmaceutical companies working hand-in-hand with top flight research at the University of Dundee.”

The aim of the DSTT is to work with the participating pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development of improved drugs to treat global diseases – such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s Disease and which exert their effects by targeting enzymes termed `kinases’ and the ubiquitin system within the body.

The MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit, Scottish Institute for Cell Signalling and the College of Life Sciences at Dundee comprise the world’s largest centre for the study of kinases and the ubiquitin system with some 200 scientific and support staff working in this area.

Kinase drug discovery accounts for about 30% of the R&D budget of the pharmaceutical industry and over 50% of global cancer drug discovery. The drug Gleevec, which has transformed a previously fatal form of leukaemia into a manageable disease, is one example of a kinase targetting drug which has been introduced to the market in recent years.

The ubiquitin system is an emerging area of drug discovery in which Dundee has recently developed great strengths through the recruitment of Professor Hay in 2005 and the founding of the Scottish Institute for Cell Signalling in 2008.