The Therapeutics Consortium will connect the intellectual know-how of several large academic institutions with the drug-developing potential of the pharmaceutical industry, to deliver better drugs to the clinic.
From early 2018, the Consortium will form a major constituent of the new Milner Therapeutics Institute, which has been made possible through a £5 million donation from Jonathan Milner and will be located in a new building at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the centrepiece of the largest biotech cluster outside the United States.
The Consortium will connect academic and clinical researchers at the University of Cambridge, the Babraham Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute with pharmaceutical companies Astex Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). It will provide researchers with the potential to access novel therapeutic agents (including small molecules and antibodies) across the entire portfolio of drugs being developed by each of the companies, in order to investigate their mechanism, efficacy and potential. The terms of the Consortium allow for fast and easy access to these agents and information.
Each industry partner within the Therapeutics Consortium has committed funding to spend on collaborative projects and will collectively fund an executive manager to oversee the academic/industry interactions. Collaborative projects are expected to lead to joint publications, supporting a culture of more open innovation.
Professor Tony Kouzarides from the University of Cambridge, who will head the Therapeutics Consortium and the Milner Institute, is currently deputy director at the Gurdon Institute. He says: “The Milner Institute will act as a ‘match-making’ service through the Therapeutics Consortium, connecting the world-leading research potential of the University of Cambridge and partner institutions with the drug development expertise and resources of the pharmaceutical industry. We hope many more pharmaceutical companies will join our consortium and believe this form of partnership is a model for how academic institutions and industry can work together to deliver better medicines.”
Dr Harren Jhoti, President and CEO of Cambridge-based company Astex Pharmaceuticals, now part of Japan’s Otsuka Group, said: “As a company that was founded right here in Cambridge we are delighted to support this new Consortium working together with leading Cambridge academic and clinical researchers to help us to research and develop ever better treatments for patients.”
Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, Innovative Medicines & Early Development at AstraZeneca said: “We are pleased to be part of this exciting new consortium that brings together world-leading science and technology into a dedicated multi-disciplinary institute focused on translational research. The proximity of the Institute to our new R&D centre and global headquarters in Cambridge will ensure our scientists can work closely with those at the Milner Institute.”
Professor Michael Wakelam, Director of the Babraham Institute, said: “The Institute’s participation in the Therapeutics Consortium provides yet one more channel by which our excellence in basic biological research is built upon in partnership with industry-based collaborators. We know from experience that bringing together the best academics and the best pharmacological research is both efficient and enlightening and we look forward to making joint progress.”
Dr Rab Prinjha, Head of GSK’s Epigenetics Discovery Performance Unit, said: “Late-stage attrition is too high – very few investigational medicines entering human trials eventually become an approved treatment. As an industry, we must improve our success rate by understanding our molecules and targets better. This innovative institute which builds on GSK’s very successful collaboration with the Gurdon Institute and close links with many groups across Cambridge, aims to increase our knowledge of basic biological mechanisms to help us bring the right investigational medicines into human trials and ultimately to patients.”
The Consortium will initially operate from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, but will move into the Milner Institute in early 2018.
One of the major aims of the Institute will be to help understand how drugs work and to push forward new ideas and technologies to improve the development of novel therapies. A major, but not exclusive, focus of the Institute will be cancer.
It is envisaged that the Milner Institute will be equipped with core facilities, such as high-throughput screening of small molecules against cell lines, organoids (‘mini organs’) and tumour biopsies, as well as bioinformatics support to help scientists deal with large datasets. Its facilities will be available to researchers working on collaborative projects within the Therapeutics Consortium and, capacity permitting, to other scientists and clinicians within the Cambridge community.
In addition, the Milner Institute will have space for senior and junior scientists to set up independent research groups. There will also be associated faculty positions, which will be taken up by scientists in different departments, whose research and expertise will benefit from a close association with the Milner Institute.
The Milner Institute will be housed within the new Capella building, alongside the relocated Wellcome Trust/MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, a new Centre for Blood & Leukaemia Research, and a new Centre for Immunology & Immunotherapeutics.
Jonathan Milner, whose donation has made the Milner Therapeutics Institute possible, is a former member of Tony Kouzarides’ research group and experienced entrepreneur. In 1998 they founded leading biotechnology company Abcam together with Professor David Cleevely, which has gone on to employ over 800 people and supply products to 64% of researchers globally.