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Structural Genomics Consortium Head Urges Open Access to Boost Drug Development

BOSTON (GenomeWeb News) – Research collaborations, transparency, and data in the public domain are essential to new drug development, according to a structural biologist who spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting here on Saturday.

The University of Toronto’s Aled Edwards, who is also the director and the chief executive officer of a not-for-profit group called the Structural Genomics Consortium, warned that the predominant methods of drug research and discovery are too patent heavy, leading to duplicated effort and lost opportunities for significant productivity.

According to the figures he presented, governments and academic institutions spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually on costs related to drug development. And, he said, biotech and pharmaceutical companies spend another $50 billion.

Even so, for every ten promising compound that actually makes it all the way to human trials, only one actually succeeds and is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, Edwards noted. Most of these, he added, fail for reasons no one can predict. “Drug discovery is rather a lottery,” he said.

These current drug development methods are not sustainable, Edwards said. For instance, he pointed out that over the last seven to twelve years, the amount of money spent on drug discovery has skyrocketed, while productivity — the number of new drugs on the market — has leveled off or even decreased.

“There’s a serious problem that industry’s facing right now. They’re shaking in their boots,” Edwards said, adding, “Intellectual property is killing the process of drug discovery.”

Edwards said there is hope for structural genomics in aiding drug development — but only if academia, industry, and funding bodies collaborate and keep new structural data accessible to all researchers who might be interested in using it.

The Structural Genomics Consortium, formed in 2004, is an international organization with centers in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. It was created with the goal of determining the three dimensional structure of all medically relevant proteins through collaborations and partnerships.

The group hopes to speed up the validation of new molecular targets using funding from public-private partnerships. At the moment, Edwards noted, the SGC has $30 million in funding from groups as varied as the Canadian government and pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, and Novartis.

And, like the NIH-funded Protein Structure Initiative, the Structural Genomics Consortium puts a great deal of emphasis on keeping data in the public domain. To date, the group has reportedly contributed to adding more than 500 new protein structures to the Protein Data Bank.

Edwards argued that publishing, rather than patenting, this data is the key to drug development productivity. For instance, earlier this year, the Structural Genomics Consortium published data on the structural and functional data they’d uncovered for three new kinase proteins. The consortium believes the findings, reported in the European Molecular Biology Organization in late January, have implications for developing new drugs, particularly for cancer therapy.

“This is the model we’d like to see over and over and over again,” Edwards said.

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