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Online Challenge to Find Next Generation of Breakthrough Medicines

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By better understanding the molecular basis of a rare phenotype, UCB scientists hope to be able to develop new medicines for the treatment of severe diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. 

Describing the UCB “Innovation Challenge”, Professor Dame Kay Davies, Director of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit at the University of Oxford said “This is an innovative approach to developing new medicines which potentially holds much promise. Traditionally, finding individuals and communities that possess medically interesting phenotypes has proved difficult. With the ‘Innovation Challenge’, UCB hopes to harness the power of the internet to create a global super-network allowing them to identify people who have unique characteristics. This could provide a useful head start in identifying new areas of medical research.”

UCB has already pioneered a number of exciting new approaches to drug discovery, and has an impressive record for turning discoveries into new medicines for severe diseases. With nearly half of its research being done in the UK, UCB is one of the leading biopharmaceutical research and development companies in the country. Additionally, UCB are leading the way in open innovation and collaborative partnerships that will see the formation of super-networks of academics, companies and patients focussing on finding the next major medical breakthroughs for severe diseases. Working in this way UCB aims to drive a paradigm shift, a change in the strategies of drug design. The company hopes the results will speed up the process of finding new medicines, the quality of compounds selected for further development and, ultimately, improve patient outcomes.

Now, UCB has partnered with problem solving experts InnoCentive, to develop and launch the UCB ‘Innovation Challenge’. UCB hopes the InnoCentive network of thousands of registered problem solvers, proven challenge methodology and cloud-based technology will combine to open exciting new avenues of scientific research and development. 

Describing the online challenge from a patient perspective, Alastair Kent, Director of the Genetic Alliance UK, said “The Genetic Alliance UK, supports high quality biomedical research targeted at serious unmet needs and we believe that those who participate in this challenge could be helping people who are affected by disease. We are encouraging people to enter the challenge because without active participation we may miss the genetic key to solving some of the world’s most difficult to treat illnesses.”

Challenge entrants are asked to enter submissions that describe a relevant, interesting and rare human phenotype. The best submission will receive an award of US $10,000. Additionally, bonus awards (no smaller than US $1,000) will be paid to entrants who the judges feel submitted an especially interesting or relevant entry.

In order to be eligible for an award, submissions must describe phenotypes that can be studied to provide information useful in the development of new disease prevention strategies.

Describing the kind of entries that UCB is looking for, Dr. Duncan McHale, Vice President of Global Exploratory Development, UCB explained, “We have a completely open mind about what phenotypes might be most appropriate to explore. For example, individuals or groups who exhibited exceptional wound healing after surgery or trauma might warrant further investigation. Equally, those who have consistently displayed exceptional resistance or immunity to infections, or who, after a robust clinical diagnosis, displayed unusually fast or spontaneous disease remission might be the basis for a winning submission.”

The challenge is also open to researchers who have ideas around how best to identify exceptional phenotypes, or who through a phenotype based approach, identify a rare condition that could provide insights valuable in treating or preventing a more common condition.

By getting involved, people could help develop new medical treatments, which, ultimately, have the potential to make a real difference to future patients.