The European Lead Factory is a pan-European platform for drug discovery supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) that is set to give a major boost to drug discovery in Europe. Comprising a collection of half a million compounds (derived from new public and existing private company collections) and a screening centre, the European Lead Factory will offer researchers in academia, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and patient organisations an unprecedented opportunity to advance medical research and develop new medicines.
A key tool in the earlier stages of drug development is a technique called High Throughput Screening (HTS), in which researchers screen large collections of chemical compounds in the hunt for molecules that could be potential drugs or be used in drug development in other ways. Although pharmaceutical companies have built up large libraries of compounds over the years, access to these collections has been tightly restricted to in-house use by the owners.
Meanwhile, the academic community is becoming increasingly interested in HTS, but public compound collections tend to be rather small and expertise in the area is scattered across many institutions. As a result, few public drug targets have been screened against large, high-quality compound libraries. This has hampered efforts to generate promising leads for the development of innovative drugs.
A unique resource
Enter the European Lead Factory, which will provide a select group of researchers in universities, small business and patient organisations with access to an industry-like platform for the identification of ‘hits’. Hits are compounds that could potentially be developed into new medicines. The pharmaceutical companies in the consortium will contribute a total of over 300 000 compounds to the project to create a joint compound collection.
To this will be added an estimated additional 200 000 novel compounds generated by public partner contributions during the project, resulting in a unique Joint European Compound Collection with some 500 000 compounds. Proposals for novel compounds from the public partners will be submitted to a transparent selection and validation process addressing several criteria such as novelty, diversity potential, innovative design and synthetic tractability. Once approved, the SMEs together with the academic institutions will seamlessly translate the most compelling ideas into high quality compound libraries to be shipped to the consortium’s HTS facilities.
The project will also establish a screening centre providing HTS services for projects for the selected public projects from academia and SMEs. It will also handle all logistics for the Joint European Compound Collection, acting as a neutral, ‘honest’ broker in the transfer, handling and analysis of confidential data.
The project in practice
Once up and running, the European Lead Factory will provide the compounds and support for 48 HTS screens per year. Of these, 24 will come from the industry partners, who will run their own screens. The other 24 HTS projects will be selected from the public sector following competitive Calls for proposals.
Public programmes selected by the project will be further advanced by the European Lead Factory. It will provide guidance in the design of the experiments, support on medicinal chemistry, and help setting up partnerships with others if needed. Once the HTS has been run, the ‘target owner’ (i.e. the organisation that submitted the target for inclusion in the project) will receive a list of a maximum of 50 compounds that have been identified. The project hopes to attract public screening proposals in a variety of therapeutic areas.
Strength in diversity
The European Lead Factory combines the power of the pharmaceutical industry’s previously inaccessible compound libraries with the innovation of the academic communities in designing novel compounds and the expertise of many SMEs in HTS and library generation. Importantly, it will provide a screening platform of industrial quality focused on value generation. Looking to the future, the European Lead Factory is set to become a centre of excellence in Europe for small molecule drug discovery programmes in the public sector. A key output of the project is a comprehensive business plan that will ensure the viability of the initiative once the initial IMI project has ended.
Achievements & News
European Lead Factory open for proposals
The European Lead Factory project is now accepting proposals for both compounds and target programmes from project partners as well as external academics and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Compound ideas will be ###assessed by a selection committee made up of respected chemists from the pharmaceutical industry, SMEs, and academia. The committee, which is bound by a confidentiality agreement, will assess proposals on the basis of their molecular properties, structural features, novelty, and innovation, among other things. Compounds that make the grade will be added to the Joint European Compound Collection; the selection committee will decide the financial reward due to the proposers.
Meanwhile, the project’s biology target programme is open to submissions for all disease areas, including oncology, cardiovascular, central nervous system (CNS), respiratory, and neglected diseases. Target screening programmes should be novel, of high quality, and ready for high throughput screening (HTS).
Details of how to apply, plus information on the project's intellectual property policy, can be found on the project website.
European Lead Factory runs first screen
This summer, IMI’s European Lead Factory project successfully completed its first miniaturised screening programme, highlighting the capabilities of the project’s Screening Centre at Pivot Park in Oss, the Netherlands. Where a traditional lab would test ###tens to hundreds of compounds per day, the robot in Oss completed testing of 300 000 compounds in under 3 days. The European Lead Factory has two main components – the Screening Centre in the Netherlands, and the Compound Collection, which is based in Scotland and currently comprises the 300 000 compounds contributed to the project by the pharmaceutical companies. A further 200 000 compounds will be added to the Compound Collection throughout the project by the public partners. Looking to the future, the project hopes to open Calls for further public screens in the near future.
- Bayer Pharma AG, Germany
- AstraZeneca AB, Sweden
- H. Lundbeck A/S, Denmark
- Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, a Pharmaceutical Company of Johnson & Johnson, Belgium
- Merck KGaA, Germany
- Sanofi, France
- UCB Pharma SA, Belgium
Universities, research organisations, public bodies, non-profit groups
- Foundation Top Institute Pharma (Stichting Top Instituut Pharma), The Netherlands
- Leiden University, The Netherlands
- Max Planck Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften E.V., Germany
- Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
- Stichting Het Nederlands Kanker Instituut, The Netherlands
- Technical University of Denmark, Denmark
- Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany
- University of Dundee, UK
- University of Groningen, The Netherlands
- University of Leeds, UK
- University of Nottingham, UK
- University of Oxford, UK
- VU-University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- BioCity Scotland Ltd, UK
- ChemAxon, Hungary
- Edelris S.A.S, France
- Gabo:Mi Gesellschaft fur Ablauforganisation:Milliarium Mbh & Co Kg, Germany
- Lead Discovery Center GmbH, Germany
- Mercachem B.V., The Netherlands
- Pivot Park Screening Centre B.V, The Netherlands
- Sygnature Discovery Limited, UK
- Syncom, The Netherlands
- Taros Chemicals GmbH & Co KG, Germany
Facts & Figures
|IMI Funding||79 999 157|
|EFPIA in kind||91 337 070|
|Other||25 202 832|
|Total cost||196 539 059|
Tel: +49 202 36 3938
Head Chemistry Consortium
Tel: +49 231 97 427211
Head Screening Consortium
Tel: +31 71 332 2035