Collaboration within the drug discovery sector is well documented, says Lu Rahman. During the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen great examples. Take Pfizer and BioNTech or the work between Carterra and Eli Lilly Company to create bamlanivimab, a Covid-19 therapeutic. Collaborative work has created vaccines and therapeutics which are helping us combat this coronavirus.
While much of our focus is on the pandemic, collaborative work continues in other areas. Stand-out projects include the stem cell medicine research centre with input from the University of Copenhagen, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the University of Oxford announced a five-year collaboration to establish the Oxford-GSK Institute of Molecular and Computational Medicine, to improve the R&D success and speed of new medicines, using human genetics and technology such as functional genomics and machine learning.
Great collaboration does not happen without effort. Covid-19 has shown us that the dogged desire of research scientists to overcome this virus has much to do with courage and curiosity, as well as collaborative work. We should not under-estimate the courage it takes pursue new scientific challenges, to rethink and not be deterred by setbacks. Omicron highlighted this and that without the ongoing efforts to counter this and other variants, we would be in a far less positive place. The courage too of clinical trial participants should not be over-looked; the last year has highlighted their hugely valuable role.
Like any other business though, drug discovery needs to be commercial; the sector seeks cures and therapies but must be financially viable. Given the huge cost of bringing a drug to market, this is no surprise but there are times when improving the health of the global population and the ability to turn a profit don’t always go hand in hand. Thankfully intellectual curiosity can lead to innovative solutions.
Pre-Covid we heard much about antimicrobial resistance (AMR). A report released by the UN Ad hoc Interagency Coordinating Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, stated that drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050. By 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty.1 Professor Laura Piddock, University of Birmingham, UK is currently seconded to the Global Antibiotic Research & Development Partnership (GARDP) as the Head of Scientific Affairs. She noted: “Developing a new antibiotic is difficult, in part because of the scientific complexity of targeting infections by WHO priority pathogens and because it requires significant time and money to produce the clinical and pharmaceutical development data required to support regulatory approval and guidance on how best to use new antibiotics.”2
She adds that as new antibiotics should be used sparingly and be affordable, the market potential of these products may be less appealing than other therapeutics. However, Piddock details a new way of working a public-private model where the R&D expertise and knowledge of the private sector “and the basic science skills, resources, and capacities of the public sector, can be pooled”. The result? The development of not-for-profit new antibiotics. GARDP has already begun to put such a partnership into place.
The drug discovery sector is amazing, not just because of the vaccines and therapeutics it delivers but because of its intellectual capacity – its courage, curiosity and team spirit – to push boundaries and improve global health.
Volume 23, Issue 1 – Winter 2021/22