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NIH, drugmakers, foundations start unusual partnership to create new medicines faster, cheaper

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TRENTON, N.J. - The U.S. National Institutes of Health, 10 drugmakers and several disease foundations are starting an unusual project to find and bring new medicines, particularly for complex, expensive chronic diseases, to patients more quickly and for less money.

The Accelerating Medicines Partnership aims to do that by sharing expertise and even research findings and by focusing on the earliest part of drug discovery — learning more about how a disease begins and progresses — to find a vulnerable spot to attack it.

The partnership announced Tuesday will seek to identify biological targets present in a disease, such as abnormal genes or particular proteins. This initial phase of drug research is rarely competitive, unlike the race among drugmakers to test their experimental drugs in patients and beat competing companies to the market, often resulting in billions of extra dollars from drug sales.

The public-private partnership will work to develop new diagnostic tests and therapies focused on such biologic targets, but more quickly and at a lower cost than today's typical drug development.

That could help slow the unsustainable rise in prices for new drugs, which often cost tens of thousands of dollars for each patient's treatment. At the same time, even the biggest pharmaceutical companies are pruning the research areas in which they work to try to get more from their research dollars.

The partnership will start with three- to five-year pilot projects on Alzheimer's disease, type 2 diabetes and the autoimmune disorders rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It could later expand into other diseases.

"Currently, we are investing a great deal of money and time in avenues with high failure rates, while patients and their families wait," NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins said in a statement. "All sectors of the biomedical enterprise agree that new approaches are sorely needed."

Industry sources say about 95 per cent of experimental drugs fail, yet it takes a couple of decades and more than $1 billion to get a new drug tested, approved and on the market. That limits the number of possible new medicines drugmakers can try to develop and means patients without good options wait longer for better treatments or die prematurely.

Over the last decade, it's become common for drugmakers to partner with each other on developing a particular drug to split the enormous cost and the risk of failure. Drugmakers also collaborate more with university researchers and others to speed up the front end of research.

The new collaboration involves more players from different fields, though, particularly the prestigious NIH, which already funds much of the basic science research that eventually results in new medicines and diagnostic tests. Other partners include drug industry leaders Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co, and foundations that advocate for more research and assist patients, including the American Diabetes Association and the Alzheimer's Association.

The partnership has a modest budget of $230 million over the first five years, with the NIH paying just over half of that and the rest coming from industry. About $130 million will go for projects on Alzheimer's disease, a mind-robbing disorder with no treatments except ones that temporarily ease symptoms.

"We participate in a number of initiatives with industry, government and (nongovernmental organizations) to improve the ways in which new drugs are discovered, clinical trials are conducted, clinical data is shared and health care is delivered," said Dr. Bill Hait, global research head for Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Research and Development. "We know the model works. That's why we are very pleased to join this broad-based partnership."


Follow Linda A. Johnson at

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