By Ben Butkus
A collaborative drug-discovery initiative launched in June by Eli Lilly and designed to cull universities and biotech companies for commercially promising therapeutic leads has garnered "much more interest than expected," and the pharma is hoping to commence full operation of the program sometime next month, a company spokesperson said this week.
Meantime, the University of Cincinnati said this week that it has become a partner institution in the PD2 initiative, becoming the first academic institution to disclose its participation.
Under the initiative, researchers from participating universities or companies can submit to Lilly compounds that have therapeutic potential in specific disease areas of interest such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
PD2 scientists will then evaluate the novelty of the compound. If deemed of sufficient interest, Lilly will then ask the researcher to submit a sample of the compound for a complete biological profile.
Organizations and researchers entering into the PD2 partnership retain full intellectual property rights to their work. If PD2 scientists determine a compound to be of particular interest, Lilly will get first rights to negotiate a collaboration or licensing agreement with the university.
If no agreement is made, faculty researchers still retain full rights to their data and the PD2 report, and can use it in grant proposals or publications.
Lilly had been drumming up interest for the initiative at various industry trade shows since late last year, first at IBC Life Science’s Assay and Cellular Targets conference in September (see BTW sister publication Cell-Based Assay News, 9/26/2008); and then at February's Association of University Technology Managers annual meeting in Orlando (see BTW, 2/18/2009).
As reported by BTW at the AUTM conference, at least six academic institutions were working with the company as PD2 pilot participants: the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Kansas University, Purdue University, Scripps Florida, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Pittsburgh.
A Lilly spokesperson confirmed this week that at all of those institutions are still participating in the program, and at least four of them have already inked material transfer agreements and submitted compounds, on which Lilly's scientists are currently performing screening campaigns.
In June, Lilly officially launched PD2 by accepting requests to participate from a number of universities, non-profit research institutions, and biotech companies worldwide.
Since that time, the company has been inundated with requests to partner through the PD2 program, and has agreed to work with more than 60 research groups across 12 countries, the spokesperson said.
Although a full list of participating institutions was not available in time for the publication of this article, the spokesperson said the group includes Harvard University, Stanford University, Princeton University, University of California-San Diego, UC-Irvine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the University of Georgia, in addition to the six pilot institutions.
"We've gotten interest from academic institutions, research institutions, and small biotechs, and especially a lot of smaller universities, which is great, because one of our goals was to really level the playing field, not just work with [prominent] institutions," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also said that participating institutions would be able to submit their compounds confidentially through a secure web portal as soon as it is enabled, which Lilly hopes is sometime in September.
The University of Cincinnati, one of the most recent participants in the program, said this week said that researchers at the school interested in accessing PD2 will be required to submit an invention disclosure to UC's intellectual property office. Upon review, the compound will then be submitted confidentially to Lilly via the secure web portal.
"This new relationship with Lilly's PD2 program is mutually beneficial," Ruben Papoian, PhD, director of UC's Drug Discovery Center, said in a statement. "They get to examine unique structures for therapeutic potential and, in turn, we get a biological profile, which can be quite expensive to do independently.
"This initiative also gives us a transparent connection to a major pharmaceutical company in our region and could lead to real collaboration," Papoian added.
Alan Palkowitz, vice president of discovery chemistry research and technologies at Lilly, said in a statement that while traditional pharma-academia collaborations involve select investigator or institution relationships, PD2 is unique because it "casts a very wide net in reaching out to universities, research institutes, and small biotechs across the globe.
"The fact of the matter is that excellent science is neither tied to a research center's size or location," Palkowitz added. "Lilly believes the approach it is taking with PD2 will maximize the probability of success in identifying new collaborative partnerships and innovative molecules."
When it launched PD2, Lilly called the initiative "a more convenient point of entry for global external researchers into Lilly's drug discovery and development process."
The pharma giant has also said that its biological profile of submitted compounds would benefit academic researchers because the data would be derived from "sophisticated and systematic" in vitro model systems, and thus would provide researchers with a broader assessment of a compound's biological profile than is generally available in academic or government labs.