Externalising drug development can more than triple the volume of new molecular entities (NMEs) going into Phase I clinical trials, industry executives suggest.

The finding came from a recent roundtable of research-based pharmaceutical industry executives convened by the US-based Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development (CSDD).

Panel members described how companies are seeking out innovative partnerships to accelerate the transition of basic science into clinically viable drug candidates, as pressure builds to cut development times, boost the output of new medicines and offset pending patent expiries on blockbuster drugs worth more than US$200 billion in sales.

One large pharmaceutical company that had teamed up with external partners reported increasing the number of NMEs entering Phase I trials from an average of five to 16 per year, the Center noted. The same company said it had improved its Phase II success rate from 14% to 41% over a recent five-year period.

 “Drug developers have gotten the message that they need to innovate ‘better, faster, and cheaper’ – without sacrificing patient safety – and partnering is proving to be an effective strategy,” commented Tufts CSDD director Kenneth Kaitin. 

Other such strategies mentioned by industry executives at the roundtable included:

-     So-called ‘technology scout organisations’ are helping Big Pharma to identify enabling technologies and platforms that are not being commercialised at present.       

-     ‘Umbrella agreements’ with large universities are enabling drug developers to broaden and deepen relationships with individual researchers and to pinpoint scientific advances with market potential.            


-     Trial sharing, in which two companies collaborate on a Phase I clinical study, means developers can learn quickly whether joint administration of their compounds can enhance therapeutic outcomes.