BLOG: Shaping the Path to Drug Discovery

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29 July 2020

Drug development is generally hard; it takes time and it’s costly.

Before joining MTPConnect, my role at the University of Sydney involved helping researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Health to collaborate with industry.

In those years, whenever we met with pharmaceutical companies to showcase the University’s latest therapeutic research, I’d inevitably hear: “This is great, but we wish you’d done this three years ago.”

The insights industry gave these research teams were always useful, and often applicable beyond their specific project under discussion. The problem was how to get drug discovery programs off on the right track from the start, and how they could share the industry insights as broadly as possible.

In August 2019, I had the idea of holding a pre-IP guidance forum, where researchers could present very early-stage programs – too early to have any filed IP protection - and receive industry feedback on their proposed development plan. Like a dress rehearsal for a major performance.

I brought the idea to Professor Michael Kassiou, who is the academic lead at the Drug Discovery Initiative (DDI), and his enthusiasm for the idea was matched by that of the experienced industry representatives we invited to be part of the panel.

So, the ‘Drug Discovery Guidance Day’ was held virtually via Zoom in April 2020. A group of 14 invited research teams from the University of Sydney were given ten minutes to present their research according to the health priority areas of the DDI, covering cancer, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative and central nervous system (CNS), inflammation and infectious diseases. Panel members then had additional time to provide valuable feedback.  

Panel members included:

  • Laura Issa (AbbVie)
  • Steven Suchting (IP Group)
  • Kathy Connell (J&J)
  • Phil Kearney (Merck Research Laboratories)
  • Julie Phillips (Opal Biosciences)
  • Anand Gautam (Pfizer)
  • Andrew Yates (UCB)
  • John Kurek (Uniseed Ventures)

The unifying takeaway message was that it is never too early to think about the commercial landscape when considering a drug development pathway.

I had high hopes for the Drug Discovery Guidance Day and the impact it would have on the researchers presenting their work:

  1. Help the 14 projects get started on the right track;
  2. Have each industry panel member leave with a handful of programs they felt compelled to follow up or learn more about; and
  3. Do it again - if there was an appetite for it.

    The feedback from all participants was overwhelmingly positive. Researchers noted that it was a valuable experience to receive expert feedback early in their journey, while industry panel members expressed a desire to be involved again in similar events. Given that we’re strengthening links between research and industry, it’s something I’ll make sure happens with the backing of the team at MTPConnect. 

    So, the next time a University pitches its early stage therapeutic research to a pharmaceutical company, the response might be. “Yes, we’ve heard about that, tell us more.”  

    Dr Duncan Macinnis is the Director Stakeholder Engagement NSW/ACT at MTPConnect.