Medicines discovery is a team sport, requiring active participation across a diverse set of disciplines from fundamental and clinical science, discovery technology, chemistry, toxicology, data analytics, regulation, manufacturing, supply chain logistics and commercial know-how, each with substantial knowledge, expertise and experience. Development of a new drug requires huge investments in time and energy. Even in the most productive of companies the success rate of this process is only 30%.

Increasingly, drug discovery has moved from a fully integrated model to one which can be accessed through a virtual, or fully outsourced model. Often individuals or small teams act to champion projects through the inevitable setbacks and whereas this model was successful when practiced within companies with the necessary expertise and support systems in place, when applied by the SMEs that now form a large proportion of the community, it becomes increasingly more difficult to access the skills, expertise and infrastructure needed.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that for many SMEs at least half of the available internal FTE is spent on activities such as contract negotiation, identifying delivery partners and advice, this can lead to wasted time and funds and potentially non-optimal solutions.

Virtual R&D enables SMEs – or translation academics – to drive their drug discovery projects by accessing the best national advice, with industrial rigour on a virtual basis. Connecting SMEs with the expertise and capabilities they need to develop and execute their plans, in addition to relationships with the private sector CROs and public sector centres of excellence that can provide the drug discovery services those experts recommend.

Virtual R&D could also help UK-based Venture Capitalists and University technology transfer offices (TTOs) to perform experimental due diligence of their portfolios, so they can assess and maximise their value to industry. This is a fully scalable capability that could be applied regardless of location.

The UK is facing a time of considerable change and our future position with existing partners and markets is unknown. The global competition for healthcare innovation is highly competitive but it does provide new and significant opportunities for export growth in commercial sectors where our intellectual capital and service sectors are a scarce and valuable global resource.

Medicines discovery is a global industry. By channelling the UK’s capabilities internationally through this virtual approach, the UK can establish strong, long-term links that will enable intellectual property to flow both ways and anchor more of it in the UK. In doing so, this will help UK companies conduct their business with their international counterparts as the environment around them inevitably shifts.

The UK is well positioned to take advantage of, and develop new markets for, the provision of virtual drug discovery services, connected through its experts and service providers, and to manage projects and portfolios with, and for, national and international partners.