Despite the chaos of 2020, drug discovery has powered on, allbeit with some adaptations. One change has been the increased demand for outsourcing services, particularly from small and mid-sized pharma and biopharma companies eager to cut costs and gain access to technical expertise. It’s a smart approach, but not all contract research organisations (CROs) are alike. Their capabilities, experience, strategies, and efficiencies vary, so it’s crucial to fully consider outsourcing strategy and partnerships in advance.
One exciting possibility is partnering with an Integrated Drug Discovery (IDD) CRO, like our DiscoveryOne team at Eurofins Discovery. IDD unites multi-disciplinary teams to provide unified coverage of research capabilities and skills for drug discovery. With IDD, individuals with a variety of backgrounds, skillsets, and knowledge bases work collaboratively. In the best-case scenarios, IDD brings significant chemistry expertise from across synthetic organic, medicinal, and computational chemistry, but also biological know-how representing critical therapeutic areas, in vitro and in vivo pharmacology, and ADME/DMPK.
When choosing contract research partners, when is an IDD CRO team the best fit?
Additional hands, brains, or both?
Companies use CRO teams as an extension of their team.This can mean hiring a CRO as extra hands to help with project tasks that their internal team doesn’t have the bandwidth to complete or when timelines must be accelerated. Some companies look to outsource for a project that requires additional “brains” or know-how not at their disposal. The latter is where IDD holds an enormous advantage.
While IDD teams can execute essentially any project, the breadth of experience enables them to fill integral knowledge and skillset gaps that are more difficult to find, in addition to increasing experimental output. This means IDD CRO’s operate as a team of collaborators rather than a team of technicians or consultants. IDD offers critical thinking and a fresh perspective that can break through bottlenecks in your drug discovery research, charting a path forward.
For this model to excel, look for a team that fosters excellent and transparent communication. The best IDD teams are an extension of your research brain trust, so there should be constant communication and communal learning.
Multi-disciplinary projects and teamwork
IDD teams typically bring together expertise, allowing researchers to view complex projects from multiple angles. Multi-disciplinary, complex projects require highly specialised instruments and experienced operators, which IDD CRO teams are more likely to have available in-house.
The key is that contributors need to integrate. This generates opportunities for creative problem-solving. Separate from their field-level and instrument expertise, IDD tend to have former Big Pharma drug hunters and highly experienced contract researchers as employees. We’ve seen at Eurofins Discovery that knowing both sides of the equation (pain points and all) make us better partners.
If you instead hire multiple CROs to accomplish a multi-disciplinary project, you may lose time and efficiencies getting everyone on the same page (and keeping things that way). Project management is an essential aspect of our work, and the efficiency of our internal project management gets passed along to our clients. One example, IDD teams typically operate under a single Master Services Agreement (MSA), which minimises the contractual burden. It often saves time and money to work with an IDD team that covers required expertise in an integrated fashion.
Biological assay ready
After identifying high-quality chemical starting points, the next step is using biological assays and in vivo studies to identify lead compounds. Many small/mid-sized and virtual companies don’t have the chemical and biological experience, or lab space, needed to make this happen. Despite the importance of bioassays, many CROs and some IDD teams don’t have an applicable assay ready.
Sometimes you can’t afford to lose time on biological assay development and validation, especially if the CRO doesn’t have premiere biological expertise. If this is you, IDD CROs strong in chemistry and biology are more likely to be bioassay ready or equipped with the assay development expertise to rapidly develop one. Off-the-shelf assays offer huge advantages regarding turnaround time and preclinical data collection, which can make or break a drug discovery project. Maintaining strength in chemistry, biology, and assay readiness remains an essential tenet of Eurofins Discovery’s DiscoveryOne philosophy for this reason.
While IDD teams support projects at various stages, they are particularly impactful when engaged early. The natural integration and wide, forward-looking expertise found in IDD teams allows them to streamline research and circumvent challenges in advance through design of the most efficient critical path and screening cascade. You’ll also be able to secure your place in their pipeline of projects, avoiding painful delays. If you’re not quite ready to partner, it’s OK to pick up the phone. It’s never too early to engage.
Dr Carol Austin Ph.D serves as Director of Drug Discovery Project Management at Eurofins DiscoveryOne. She brings over 20 years of experience in small molecule preclinical drug discovery and has successfully led IDD projects across many therapeutic areas (from infectious disease to neurodegeneration) and biological targets.
Dr Gavin Hirst Ph.D 25+ years’ experience draws from all corners of drug discovery, having worked as a medicinal chemist and executive leader for a variety of large global pharma companies. His work has been recognised with more than 80 publications and patents, culminating in more than 10 INDs spanning five therapeutic areas. He is now Global Head of DiscoveryOne at Eurofins Discovery.