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£20m research boost for Scottish biotech

Published on 11/02/13 at 10:55am
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BioCity Scotland

BioCity Scotland and the University of Dundee are to play key roles in a newly-launched pan-European drug discovery project.

In partnership with the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA), scientists at both institutions will carry out screening and medicinal chemistry activities for the five-year European Lead Factory programme.

Bankrolled by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the project will bring at least £16.3 million of IMI research funding to Scotland, said first minister Alex Salmond, with the Scottish Funding Council and Scottish government adding £3.5m on top.

Seven pharma companies are contributing 300,000 compounds between them to the European Lead Factory. In all, 30 organisations are involved in the project, which has been set up to accelerate the development of novel treatments.

IMI executive director Michel Goldman said: “BioCity Scotland’s expertise in managing the storage and logistics of large compound collections mean it will make a vital contribution.”

Bayer HealthCare is co-ordinating efforts on behalf of European pharma trade body EFPIA’s members and a second drug screening operation will be set up in the Netherlands.

In addition to the 300,000 compounds, another 200,000 will be developed jointly by academia, and by small and medium enterprises, to form the 500,000-strong Joint European Compound Collection.

This will be made available to all partners in the project as well as other European organisations offering - via competitive pitches - new targets for drug discovery screening that look promising.

This creates ‘unprecedented’ access to pharma industry chemical collections to facilitate the translation of bench findings into real treatments, Goldman continued.

“This project will not only advance the chances of success in the discovery of new medicines by European researchers, but also add value by building research capacity in Europe,” he concluded.

“The exciting aspect of this project is the opportunity it provides to discover novel drugs through the collaboration of seven large pharma companies and an open call to academics and industry across Europe,” said BioCity Group chief executive Glenn Crocker.

“On top of that there is the potential to build on this platform, extending it into new screening technologies or wider compound collections,” he added.

The boost to Scotland’s life sciences sector will not be wasted, insisted SULSA director Professor Andrew Hopkins of the University of Dundee.

“We will use the opportunity provided by the IMI project as a springboard to win further investments in the field of drug discovery innovation,” he said.

These would benefit academic research and the wider Scottish economy, Hopkins added.

Salmond echoed his comments, congratulating the institutions for securing “the biggest ever IMI contract of its kind for Scotland”.

The total budget for the European Lead Factory is €196 million.

Adam Hill

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