EMD's compound library contains around 600,000 compounds. Some of them are being sent to the consortium's central library in Scotland
To date, pharmaceutical companies have searched in their own inventories for new active ingredients for medicines. Now, however, they are pooling their compound libraries in the European Lead Factory, a development platform established by the EU's Innovative Medicines Initiative.
The search for new efficacious medicines has become even more efficient. The European Lead Factory is a consortium of seven of Europe's major pharmaceutical companies together with 23 biotech firms and a range of academic institutions. Its purpose is to compile a consortium library of the hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds in the inventories of these organizations. Subjecting these compounds to a procedure known as high-throughput screening will boost the chances of discovering new active ingredients.
During high-throughput screening, tens of thousands of compounds are examined in the search for new active ingredients
Throughout 2013, EMD will be integrating these compounds into ongoing tests whose aim is to find effective compounds for treating diseases such as cancer, immune system disorders, and multiple sclerosis. EMD will also be using compounds from other consortium partners in screenings that have so far failed to identify a suitable active ingredient from within its own compound library.
According to Jurzak, one of the reasons for this is that "chemical space" covered so far by the pharmaceutical companies’ individual compound libraries is minuscule in comparison to the theoretically possible number of compounds that are medically relevant. "It is estimated that these compounds can be combined to form between 1040 and 1060 new drugs — more than the number of atoms in the universe," he says.
The consortium's first objective is therefore to expand the chemical space in which the search for potential active ingredients for medicines is pursued. Because this requires more than merely amalgamating existing compound libraries, the European Lead Factory has also invited academic institutions to submit proposals for novel chemical compounds.
The aim is to compile chemical libraries on a completely new scale. As Jurzak explains, these might then contain more three-dimensional molecular structures, as is the case in nature, since to date the chemical processes used by the pharmaceutical industry have tended to yield planar structures. The consortium is hoping to develop some 200,000 new compounds, with the result that the Joint European Compound Collection will ultimately comprise around half a million compounds.
Jurzak is passionate about the project. "There has never before been a public-private partnership on this scale in the pharmaceutical industry!" he says. "This is virgin territory for everyone concerned and an exciting experiment. One major challenge is to ensure that any patent claims on compounds held by individual companies are settled in the interest of the consortium. So far we have always been able to reach a compromise."
Jurzak's hope is that an early and open exchange of knowledge among the consortium partners will produce results that benefit everyone, especially patients. "We will be truly delighted if marketable new medicines resulted thanks to this consortium, even if initially it were just only a single one," he says.
At the Innovation Lab in Heidelberg, Germany, the worlds of science and industry are pursuing a common goal.