Leeds joins partners in £170m European drug development project


Chemists at the University of Leeds will join a £170 million pan-European project, bringing together university researchers and pharmaceutical companies to develop the next generation of drugs.

The European Lead Factory, a novel platform for innovative drug discovery, will bring together an international consortium of 30 partners. This is the first partnership of its kind, supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the world’s largest public-private partnership in health.

The project will create unprecedented opportunities to jointly discover new medicines, through access to a ‘molecule library’ collection based at BioCity Scotland.

Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies have had vast libraries of compounds held in safeguarded corporate chemical collections which can be screened in the hunt for potential medicines. Access to these compound libraries is usually highly restricted.

The seven participating pharmaceutical companies in the European Lead Factory will collectively contribute a total of 300,000 compounds to a new library. An additional 200,000 compounds will be developed jointly by researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Nottingham in the UK and by small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

This will lead to the establishment of the Joint European Compound Collection consisting of half a million compounds that will be accessible to all project partners and to any European organisations that submit promising new targets for drug discovery selected through competitive calls.

Professor Adam Nelson, from the University of Leeds’ School of Chemistry, will coordinate the review and selection of innovative chemistry proposals from across Europe that will enhance the Joint European Compound Collection.  The team in the School of Chemistry, led by Professor Nelson, Professor Steve Marsden and Dr Richard Foster, will contribute to this effort.  

‘It is very exciting that innovative new chemistry from academia will be brought to bear in a wide range of drug discovery programmes.  This platform of innovation will be complemented by the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to develop marketed drugs, and will result in a new model for drug development in Europe,” said Professor Adam Nelson.

Drug discovery using this compound collection will be performed both within the pharmaceutical companies as well as on targets sourced from throughout Europe. Stakeholders, including companies, research centres, patient organizations and global health initiatives, will shortly be invited to submit assays that could be selected for screening against the compound collection.

Speaking on behalf of the European Screening Centre team, Dr Glenn Crocker CEO of BioCity Group said: “For me, the exciting aspect of this project is the opportunity it provides to discover novel drugs through the collaboration of seven large pharma companies and an open call to academics and industry across Europe. On top of that there is the potential to build on this platform, extending it into new screening technologies or wider compound collections. We are very pleased it will be based at BioCity Scotland.”

Professor Andrew Hopkins of Dundee University added: “It is the sheer scale of the operation, the novelty of both the targets and the compounds and the fact that the programme is open to all European academics and biotech SMEs to submit projects that is truly radical.”

IMI Executive Director Michel Goldman said: “IMI is very excited by the launch of the European Lead Factory. This unique project is an excellent example of how a public-private partnership can transform the way in which the pharmaceutical sector identifies new medicines. For the first time, it will give European researchers unprecedented access to industry chemical collections and facilitate the translation of their findings into actual treatments for patients. This project will not only advance the chances of success in the discovery of new medicines by European researchers, but also add value by building research capacity in Europe.”

Further information

Contact University of Leeds press office on pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk