What if drug discovery was as fast as creating a new App?

Following on from my last blog calling for the need to collaborate and for drug discovery to be more efficient, I got to thinking what if drug discovery could be as fast as creating a new App? Impossible you rightly say..but stay with me..What inspired me was some of my own first efforts using twitter back in June while I was at the green chemistry conference. I had an idea during a presentation, I tweeted and it lead to Alex Clark creating the Green Solvents App for mobile devices in days. The reason it was able to happen so fast was because Alex had developed all the toolkit to produce the apps, which took a significant time investment.

So how many of us sit in conferences and something the presenter says gives you an idea. What do we do? Write it down and forget about it, file it away in our memory, go back to the lab and actually act on the idea? What if we have an idea for developing a drug, if you are a chemist you go away and make the molecule and then you have to struggle to get someone to test it. If you are a biologist maybe you think of a new target that needs modulating but you need to find a probe, how does one even start? Not terrific examples I know but the point I want to make is that each one of us can only get an idea so far – really as far as our own training gets us- following the analogy with the solvent App, as far as we have developed our own drug discovery “toolkit”. We need to find someone who can take our idea further, a collaborator. That is just the beginning of a long and costly R&D process which few people outside the industry can comprehend. And yes I am simplifying. These efforts at finding collaborators slow the whole process down.

With the last blog Chris Waller mentioned some of the efforts pharma has developed such as Lilly and PD2 andTD2. I have told many academics about these open innovation opportunities because they might be useful as a way to get their compounds further. These could address the gap identified above. Now I think these are great as a step forward but reading the website “Compound structure information is securely submitted in through the web interface, where a proprietary cheminformatics evaluation tool determines if the structure is of potential interest to Lilly” (my emphases on the last 4 words). So if you have say a known structure or something that fails their filters it is not likely to get tested. This is one way to ensure that you do not get inundated with too many molecules to test, certainly. So here is an opportunity for others. There needs to be a service that has screens for all different diseases which anyone can submit any of their molecules to, to test their ideas.  There needs to be a way for any biologist to find a chemical probe for their target too, so that could be through database searching resources, HTS etc. If these already exist as comprehensive resources let me know. I am aware of some NIH institutes which test other peoples compounds for certain diseases, but these are from the comprehensive “toolkit” that could be a centralized way to test molecules, which I envisage above.

Yes lots of academic groups now have self contained screening centers, yes everyone is trying to do translational medicine etc, yes its incredibly expensive and complicated..but what about people outside of these institutions, you have to go to a CRO etc to get your compounds tested and that is not free either. What if (and its a big IF)—Pharmas could collaborate to combine 1. their computational models for all kinds of preclinical properties, 2. their screening resources for all targets known and 3. their clinical resources,  and offer them to anyone with a good idea to test, to see whether they could significantly speed up drug R&D. What I am basically proposing is that between all the pharmas they each have invested in setting up an identical “toolkit” for drug R&D, and yet none of them are really doing it much faster than the others (some may be more or less successful). Could they offer some of the toolkit to people outside the industry (say in academia or startup) that actually have no hope of getting their ideas tested if the present scenario continues. I guess pharma needs to look outside for good ideas, whether molecules, targets etc (perhaps exemplified by Lilly’s efforts). But it needs to happen on a different scale and be more open to molecules that may not fit preconceived ideas of what they are after. Drug Discovery is not going to happen in a week, but it needs to be possible for any scientist to test an idea quickly, because it just might be a good one. (I am skipping lots of details on the logistics etc. but other folks can worry about that)

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