The Wellcome Trust today announces an injection of £110 million to extend its Seeding Drug Discovery initiative for a further five years. The decision follows an extensive internal review of the programme, whose successes include the completion of a phase I clinical trial of a drug to treat multidrug-resistant bacterial infections.
Since its launch in 2005, Seeding Drug Discovery (SDD) has committed over £80 million to fund the early stages of drug discovery, at which work is often considered too high-risk to attract funding from venture capitalist or other sources for commercial development.
The programme was set up to facilitate the development of drug-like small molecules that address unmet medical needs. The aim is to progress projects to a stage where there is sufficient evidence to make the intellectual property and outcomes attractive to follow-on investors.
"When Seeding Drug Discovery was launched as a new concept in translational funding, we took a calculated risk that there were the people and ideas within the research community to make the initiative fly," explains Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust. "Now we know that there are, based on the four-year review of the scheme, which shows that we have tapped into a rich vein of exciting drug discovery possibilities."
"The additional resources the Wellcome Trust is putting behind the initiative exemplifies our resolve to make a difference through the discovery of novel medicines that might never have made it off the drawing board for lack of the necessary funds."
Although it's still early days for many of the projects that have received funding from SDD, there have been a number of notable outcomes.
In September 2009, pharmaceutical company Achaogen announced the results of a phase I trial and preclinical data on its lead drug candidate ACHN-490 for the treatment of multidrug-resistant bacterial infections. The drug was well tolerated and plans are now underway to take the candidate into phase II clinical trials later this year.
"There is a dire need for new agents to treat multidrug-resistant bacteria worldwide and we are grateful to Wellcome for their support in helping us to develop this candidate," said John Hollway, Vice President of Business Development at Achaogen."We have recently secured an additional £36.2 million of financing from independent investors that will enable us to further our multiple clinical programmes and support our company's growth."
Professor Steve Bloom from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London received an award to develop anti-obesity drugs based on the hormone pancreatic polypeptide, which is released naturally after a meal as part of the mechanism to tell the brain that the body feels full. He commented: "In a faltering economy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract biotech investment, particularly at the early stages when risks are high. With support from the Wellcome Trust, we now have a lead candidate that we hope to take to a phase I clinical trial later this year."
A number of other SDD projects have attracted additional funding, in the region of £48 million, from partners in industry and the US National Institutes of Health. In November 2009, a company trade sale was concluded between Prolysis and the Australian biotech company Biota Holdings Ltd, which included the acquisition of an SDD-funded programme to develop a new antibiotic to treat infections caused by the lethal superbug MRSA.
"It's important to recognise the achievements to date are a great credit to the investigators we fund and the expert advisers that we use to select and engage with projects," said Rick Davis, who manages the initiative at the Wellcome Trust. "This is augmented by our in-house team who are there every step of the way to make sure each funded project has the best chance. We input into the establishment and building of multidisciplinary teams, we actively participate in monitoring, managing and problem solving, and we also provide access to global experts to advise on programmes. It is the combination of these elements that have helped contribute to the successes of the scheme"
Seeding Drug Discovery is open to researchers at public or private institutions, including commercial companies. The next deadline for applications is 21 May 2010.