Hitting the targets – Inspiring Stakeholder Meeting

28 April 2017

On the 25-26 April the European Lead Factory (ELF) Stakeholder Meeting and 5th General Assembly took place close to Heathrow/Windsor, UK. With an exciting agenda focussing on four years of successful collaboration, the impact of the European Lead Factory and the future of drug discovery, the meeting was considered a great success by all participants.

They shared experiences and discussed possible future collaborations with a broad group of stakeholders from policy, science, business and health. The programme owners presented their results and highlighted the unique assets of ELF during the plenary session and dedicated poster session. The meeting attracted more than 110 participants from 50 different organisations, based in 16 different countries.

Overall, the European Lead Factory Stakeholder Meeting was a great success, showing that the project is ‘hitting the targets’ on different levels. Stefan Jaroch, European Lead Factory Coordinator (Bayer), proudly summarised that as follows: 

‘The European Lead Factory is working, it’s embedded in the drug discovery community, and it’s worthwhile: it’s an outstanding example of a project in which public-private partnerships enable collaborative drug discovery.’ 
Stefan Jaroch, European Lead Factory Coordinator, Bayer

The European Lead Factory would like to thank all oral and poster presenters, all participants, all programme owners (present or not), and the host UCB for two stimulating days.

It’s working

The concept behind the European Lead Factory works. The combination of access to top-quality compound libraries with novel targets identified by academia and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has yielded great results in many therapeutic areas. Dimitrios Tzalis (ELF Head of Chemistry) and Ton Rijnders (ELF Head of Screening) presented a progress update of four years of ELF, explaining the collective achievements based on the Joint European Compound Library and the role of public-private partnerships that promise to have an impact on society now and in the future. The ~300,000 compounds cherry-picked from the industry partners’ proprietary collections gave the project a flying start in 2013 and since then, the chemistry partners have added more than 170,000 of the best synthesized screening compounds imaginable. 

‘It is absolutely fascinating to hear all what ELF has achieved so far. You have the world-best compound collection, but the human resources available for the programme owners cannot be overestimated.’
Richard Mead, University of Sheffield

The results and added value of ELF were underlined by four presentations by target programme owners sharing their success stories in which ELF has played a pivotal role. One of them, Dr Richard Mead from the University of Sheffield, exemplified just how far the collaboration with ELF can advance academic research. Thanks to the compounds identified and developed by the ELF researchers, he could start pharmacological proof-of-concept work, and convince Parkinson’s UK to invest money in further development, a collaboration that now has resulted in spin-out company Keapstone Therapeutics.

‘I want to thank everyone involved at ELF. It’s working like a well-oiled machine. The ELF team really shined at the Improved hit list stage. This is really good medicinal chemistry!’ 
Aubry Miller, target programme owner, German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) Heidelberg

It’s embedded

After four successful years, the European Lead factory is embedded in the research communities around Europe. The current project has proved to stimulate public and private partnerships, and it shows that crowdsourcing works. The programme is not only about sharing knowledge, but also about enabling new collaborations. During the meeting, several participants were triggered by the presentations of, for example, MedixciMRC TechnologiesEBiSC and Alzheimer’s Research UK to think of how to plan their research and collaboration in the future. The European Lead Factory involves a very diverse set of organisations and people, probably one of the factors for the support among the broad spectrum of stakeholders in the medical innovation-space. 

‘We are now ready to engage with a larger group of stakeholders to progress their projects to the benefit of their patients.’
Ton Rijnders, ELF Head of Screening, Lygature

It’s worthwhile

The European Lead Factory serves the public interests in many ways, e.g. through the discovery of novel drug candidates, quicker valorisation of academic results, attracting private R&D-investments, and by strengthening the competitive edge of different regions in Europe. This has already resulted in various tangible outcomes for some target programme owners, such as the development of two start-ups in the fields of Parkinson’s Disease and Diabetes, one oncology candidate drug and two patents in the antimicrobial resistance and cancer. These milestones showcase the value of ELF. 

'ELF is taking risks to develop those projects. This is the first application of this type of screening assay anywhere.’ ‘Without ELF we would not have been able to move any of these projects forward.’
Graeme Wilkinson, target programme owner, The Research Network

In enabling these results, ELF does not stop short of taking risks, e.g. in the type of targets selected, in developing and applying novel assay technologies for screening and in the novel compounds synthesised.

‘We are pleased to see the results of the first screens against the Public Compound Collection. The hits are potent, specific, cover many types of targets, and one of the public compounds has even entered the hit-to-lead phase.’ 
Dimitrios Tzalis, ELF Head of Chemistry, Taros

It’s still early

Despite the many achievements presented at the meeting, the audience agreed that the full impact is yet to come. Many programmes are only at the start of the lengthy process of drug research and measuring early success in drug discovery is not easy. However, within the short four-year period of its existence and with many programmes still in the pipeline, many already give testimony of ELF’s positive impact on the innovation gap.

‘The innovation gap has moved forward in the drug discovery pipeline. Now I have an issue with in vivo work.’
Graeme Wilkinson, target programme owner, The Research Network

The first steps are made, but to see the full potential and the direct effects on society and global health, more time is necessary.

It’s inspirational

Many participating programme owners found it very useful to learn what makes their drug discovery programmes attractive for further investment by, e.g. established pharma, shared-risk ventures, patient organisations and venture capital investors. They were inspired by the keynote lecture of Ismael Kola, Executive Vice President of the meeting host and ELF industry participant UCB, as well as the many other interesting presentations. One of the participants, Chris Swain, Cambridge Medchem Consulting, even felt inclined to write a blogpost about the meeting. 

‘This event has been invaluable for helping me to think about the next steps. It has given me a lot of ideas on how to do that, whom to talk to and the routes towards further funding.’
Stephen Yarwood, public target owner, Heriot-Watt University.