A new ‘European Lead Factory’ to be set up under the EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) will combine a library of as many as 500,000 drug candidates from industry and academia with a high-throughput screening centre, in what the IMI called “an unprecedented effort to speed up the discovery of new medicines”.

The two components of the European Lead Factory together constitute the sole theme of the IMI’s 5th Call for Proposals 2012, which has just been announced by the Brussels-based public-private partnership devoted to eliminating bottlenecks in drug development.

The total budget for the project is €169 million, with up to €80 million coming from the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme for Research and the rest from in-kind contributions by member companies of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

The total indicative contribution of up to €80 million from the IMI Joint Undertaking (JU) is to “balance the EFPIA deficit arising from preceding Calls for proposals”, the Initiative noted.

The JU’s contribution will be divided 50:50 between the proposed European Screening Centre and the Joint European Compound Collection.

Corporate libraries

The pharmaceutical companies involved in the new project have committed to putting at least 300,000 chemical compounds from their corporate libraries into the Joint European Compound Collection.

The teams of universities and small and medium-sized enterprises taking part are expected to add another 200,000 compounds to the Collection.

The proposed European Screening Centre will build on industry’s existing expertise in high-throughput screening, whereby robots test hundreds of thousands of unique chemicals for biological activity.

Overall, the European Lead Factory will “provide to public partners an ‘industry-like’ discovery platform to translate cutting-edge academic research into high-quality candidate drug molecules on a scale and speed that was not possible previously”, IMI said. 

Unique opportunity

The joint screening centre will give academic teams “a unique opportunity to work in conditions that meet industry standards, facilitating the translation of their findings into actual treatments for patients”, added IMI executive director Michel Goldman.