From research to market launch

The Lead Discovery Center accompanies promising projects all the way through to the product stage

June 21, 2011

In 2008, the technology transfer company Max Planck Innovation founded the Lead Discovery Center (LDC) in Dortmund in order to accompany potentially successful research projects from elements of basic research into new medicines. As an independent and economically focussed company, the LDC works closely with academic and industrial research institutions on further developing promising projects from the very beginning of their development process.

Since its establishment, the LDC has successfully contributed to closing the gap between basic research and the industrial development of medicines. To this effect, the LDC has developed a completely new, highly selective kinase inhibitor and for the first time has licensed it out to a pharmaceutical partner as a lead structure. Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals has acquired a worldwide exclusive trademark licence with the intention of making the lead structure ready for the market as a cancer medicine. Moreover, the Lead Discovery Center is cooperating with Merck Serono on the development of new kinase inhibitors for the treatment of cancer. Thanks to a kinase technology developed at the Chemical Genomics Centre of the Max Planck Society, researchers can identify new kinds of substances that should make the kinase inhibitors work effectively and in a more targeted manner. Here, the goal of the Lead Discovery Center and Merck Serono is to guide the kinase inhibitors through the various stages of early drug development in order to produce a pharmaceutical lead structure.

The licence agreement with Bayer and the cooperation with Merck Serono are important milestones in the relatively short history of the LDC. To meet the demand for new types of medication, the pharmaceutical industry is becoming increasingly interested in innovative drugs that form the basis of new medications. The greatest hurdle on the path to new medicine is the low maturity level of most scientific projects in the basic research stage. This is an obstacle that has been encountered time and again by the technology transfer company Max Planck Innovation. In the early development phase, it is virtually impossible – even for outstanding and commercially promising scientific projects – to find industry partners or venture capitalists if the effectiveness has not yet been proven in an animal model (proof of concept).

The reason for this is that the usual models used to evaluate risk and profit prospects cannot be applied in this early phase. In addition, it is very difficult to unite the short investment cycles on the capital market with the long development times needed for pharmaceutical projects. Added to this is the fact that pharmaceutical groups are increasingly avoiding the early phases of drug research for market economy considerations, which means that the gap between basic research and the industrial development of medications are becoming larger.

In cooperation with academic and industrial partners, the LDC selects promising projects that are in the early phase of development from public research institutions, such as the Max Planck Society, or from renowned universities. It then professionally accompanies and advances these projects to the bio-pharmaceutical development project stage. This gives rise to so-called lead structures. A lead structure is a carefully investigated representative of a chemical substance class in the early phase of drug development which has the potential to undergo further medication development.

The lead structures are then adopted by the pharmaceutical industry and made ready for the market. The public partner institutions are involved up until commercial use, which means that they also benefit financially from their findings. This helps to close the gaps between science and industry.

The LDC is thus paving the way for new medications and innovative therapy concepts for critical and life-threatening diseases such as cancer, inflammatory conditions, neurodegenerative illnesses and cardiovascular diseases. This, however, is not just restricted to commercially lucrative markets, but also encompasses niche indications with an overriding humanitarian claim, for which there is a particularly high need for new therapies.

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