A new drug discovery and development resource in Genoa, Italy exemplifies the collaborative spirit critical to future innovation in the pharmaceutical sector, industry leaders say.

Speaking at the launch of the Italian Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Drug Discovery and Development Unit (D3), William Burns, newly retired chief executive officer of Roche Pharmaceuticals, said the key way forward in pharmaceutical R&D was “to have good interconnectivity”.

No single institution “is doing all the right things, so partnerships are crucial to the development of innovative new medicines”, Burns commented. “The industry needs to harness science from hybrid groups like the D3, who are working in an inspired way to advance the discovery of new drugs in important therapeutic areas”.

D3 is a specialist unit of the IIT that brings together scientists with experience in industry and academia to pursue the discovery of new medicines for pain, inflammation and dementia. It recently received €12 million in funding from the Italian government to cover the next five years.

Facilities including 2,000 sq m of laboratory and office space were completed in Genoa last December. By the end of this year, D3 is expected to have more than 70 scientists and technical staff in place. The unit is looking for external partners to advance key projects, and at the launch Sergio Dompé, president of the national pharmaceutical industry association Farmindustria, encouraged local players to get involved.

“Here in Italy we have extremely skilled scientists who have great ideas, but we face a challenge in getting new R&D projects off the ground,” Dompé noted. “Collaborations between industry and academia, such as the model employed here at D3, are crucial to the success of the Italian pharmaceutical industry.”

Dr Daniele Piomelli, scientific director of D3, said the call for partnerships “speaks to the D3 business model, which focuses on uniting the creativity and innovation of academia with the focused and results-oriented culture of the pharmaceutical industry”.

The IIT is a foundation established by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research and the Ministry of Economy and Finance to promote excellence in basic and applied research and to contribute to the economic development of Italy. This mission involves co-operation with both academic institutions and the private sector.