A new initiative designed to bridge the gap between academic research and the pharmaceutical industry in Germany and beyond has stepped up to the plate with the foundation of European ScreeningPort GmbH in the northern city of Hamburg.

The company, a public-private partnership supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the City of Hamburg, drug discovery and development specialist Evotec AG and the north German life science agency, Norgenta GmbH, will provide academic research institutes with access to high-throughput screening technology on an industrial scale, a “vast” library of chemical compounds, and sampling and data processing capabilities, Evotec said.

The project was initiated by Evotec, and implemented by Norgenta, as part of a broader European Drug Discovery LinkUp programme aimed at easing the transition between academic discoveries and industrialised pharmaceutical R&D.

Both Evotec (which is based in Hamburg) and the City of Hamburg have invested in European ScreeningPort, while the Federal Ministry of Education and Research will, as part of its Pharmaceuticals Initiative for Germany campaign, contribute more than 800 million euros in total by 2011 to setting up the new company and its initial pilot screening projects.

Another partner is c.a.r.u.s. IT AG, a German company specialising in high-performance data management solutions for the life sciences sector.

Cost-effective development

“New therapeutic concepts developed at universities can, in future, undergo the same standardised, more efficient and thus more cost-effective development processes that have, until now, been available only to industry,” Evotec commented. “Pharmaceutical and biotech companies, for their part, can benefit from the research results generated at ScreeningPort and thus complement their own drug research.”

Although still at an early stage, the project has already raised more than 7 million euros in financing. The longer-term aim is that ScreeningPort should be part of an international drug discovery network. Commitments have already been secured from a number of European research institutes, including the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Molecular Biology, Evotec noted.

The other main strand of the European Drug Discovery LinkUp programme is establishing Academic CentrePoints – assay development centres close to academia – to conduct drug discovery programmes. The ScreeningPort will then provide the link between this basic research and the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industries, serving as a “marketplace for innovative hits,” Evotec explained.