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Feature Stories

Bold bid: 10 drug firms pool talent, test data seeking faster treatments and cures

Tom Laue, Executive Editor

Say Ford, Chevy, and VW jointly build a car better than any can alone. Unlikely. Now picture 10 fiercely competitive drug firms uniting to develop medications brought to market faster to fight Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

Unthinkable? Think again. A five-year, $230 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) pact unveiled Feb. 4, 2014, will test the idea. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins says, "Patients and caregivers rely on science to find better and faster ways to detect and treat disease. We invest a great deal of money and time in drug tests with high failure rates. Meanwhile, patients and families wait."

So starting in fall 2011, Collins devised the "Accelerating Medicines Partnership" (AMP). After long, difficult meetings, these 10 drug companies agreed to take part: AbbVie, Biogen Idec, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Takeda, along with the FDA, NIH, and non-profits.

The goal

Despite advances in basic therapeutic research, Collins says break-through drugs still take too much time and cost too much when one drug company seeks drug targets. "It's time to work together to increase our collective odds of success."

The NIH says researchers have identified thousands of changes in genes, proteins, and other molecules that "predispose to disease and influence disease progression." But the NIH says "only a small number have been pursued." Picking the wrong target can cause a 95 percent failure rate.

Here are participant tasks:

  • Drug companies and NIH contribute scientists for each disease and clinical trial data.
  • NIH, drug firms, and academic research centers run lab tests and conduct studies. Companies find test patients and do analysis.
  • NIH reviews progress and helps make scientific decisions.
  • The AMP maps molecular paths for each disease. It then focuses on treatment targets. For example, Type 2 diabetes researchers hope to chart genetic changes that raise or lower the risk of getting the disease.

Sharing data

The agreement sets assessment mileposts for each disease. After discoveries go public or a project ends, companies may compete based on findings.

NIH says data and analyses will be publicly available to the broad biomedical community. This could set the stage for eventual expansion of AMP to other diseases and conditions.

Mikael Dolsten, M.D., Ph.D., head of Pfizer's worldwide research and development group, expects speedier translation of scientific knowledge into next-generation therapies.

Collins cautions against quick cures. "Though some researchers have started using new technology to decipher the biology behind certain diseases, efforts are relatively unproven. It can take a decade to develop a drug and get federal approval after finding a target."

Even so, AMP participants bet they're now on a track leading to drug development for four diseases that will reach patients faster and cheaper than they do now. Drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration cost on average $1 billion to develop.

The FDA joins NIH and its foundation as government partners with non-profits Alzheimer's Association, American Diabetes Association, Geoffrey Beene Foundation, Lupus Foundation of America, PhRMA, Rheumatology Research Foundation, and USAgainstAlzheimer's.

Learn about the discovery of a human gene mutation that decreases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 65 percent.