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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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July 11, 2008

Sharing the Enlightenment

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Posted by Derek

Here's an interesting idea: Merck, Lilly, and Pfizer are bankrolling a startup company to look for new technologies for drug development. Enlight Biosciences will focus on the biggest bottlenecks and risk points in the process, including new imaging techniques for preclinical and clinical evaluation of drug candidates, predictive toxicology and pharmacokinetics, clinical biomarkers, new models of disease, delivery methods for protein- and nucleic acid-based therapies, and so on.

It's safe to say that if any real advances are made in any of these, the venture will have to be classed as a success. These are hard problems, and it's not like there's been no financial incentive to solve any of them. (On the contrary - billions of dollars are out there waiting for anyone who can truly do a better job at these things). I wish these people a lot of luck, and I'm glad to see them doing what they're doing, but I do wish that there were more details available on how they plan to go about things. The opening press release leaves a lot of things unspoken, no doubt by design. (For instance, where are the labs going to be? What's the hoped-for balance of industry types to academics? How many people do they plan to have working on these things, and how will the companies involved plan to share the resulting technologies?)

Enlight is a creation of Puretech Ventures, a Boston VC firm that's been targeting early-stage ideas in these areas. Getting buy-in from the three companies above will definitely help, but their commitment isn't too clear at present. For now, it looks like they're getting to take a fresh look at some areas of great interest, without necessarily having to spend a lot of their own money. The press release says that Enlight will "direct up to $39 million" toward the areas listed on their web site, but those problems will eat thirty-nine million dollars without even reaching for the salt. Further funding is no doubt in the works, with the Merck/Pfizer/Lilly names as a guarantee of seriousness, and if any of these projects pan out, the money will arrive with alacrity.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Drug Assays | Drug Development


1. CC on July 11, 2008 9:31 AM writes...

There are some very smart people involved with this venture, but I don't understand what it *does*, exactly. There's no location, no hiring. Do they just distribute money?

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2. GATC on July 11, 2008 9:35 AM writes...

I thought the GSK CEDD experiment was supposed to have solved all of this already.

The bottom line is chemical diversity in the compound bank, risk, and safety. Which are you willing to change?

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3. Still Scared of Dinosaurs on July 11, 2008 10:41 AM writes...

Here's how it should work:
1) Poll the Senior execs at all 3 companies and have them nominate people in each functional area that best represent the organization
2) Fire all the execs and their nominees
3) Get back to work

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4. The Pharmacoepidemiologist on July 11, 2008 11:08 AM writes...

Actually, there are lots of techniques the companies could use, including epidemiology. There's a lack of patience and understanding on the part of upper managements to making the necessary investments, including training of the necessary personnel. It's hard not to wonder if the Wall Street fixation on how well the next quarter looks has finally translated to the drug discovery and development arena, where a short-term focus provides little more than a low probability of success.

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5. DLIB on July 11, 2008 12:47 PM writes...

The sad truth is that if someone had just the idea for NMR or Mass Spec -- explained it to these people on how it'll work ( we blast apart these molecules see.. and we time them very precisely see.. and see how long it takes to hit a me if you fund this idea it'll be a big hit and very important.), how much money it'd cost to do the research and development to make a product. These ideas would never be funded today by either a VC company or a pharmaceutical company or an instrument company. I've spoken with the CTOs of 2 of the largest instrument companies -- neither are spending a dime on "New Boxes" ( that require R & D versus acquisition ). Expect to see lots of "add-ons" to you MS and NMRs.

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6. George2 on July 11, 2008 7:51 PM writes...

GSK CEDD experiment was/is a sham.

GSK just tacked the 'excellence' word on to every dept in the company.

The new GSK CEDD experiment, outsourcing 50% of all research, will be more interesting to watch.

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7. Chris C on July 11, 2008 8:11 PM writes...

Still Scared of Dinosaurs's post gives me a laugh. The senior management of many organizations, even academic ones like my own, often have no idea of what the real issues are to the foot soldiers. This ties in with Derek's earlier posting about the Gates Foundation's new grant system. Their Board of Directors are all administrators, albiet very high level ones like Zerhouni, the director of the Wellcome Trust, and so forth. Gates has no actual PI's or "boots on the ground." I hope that the Enlight project gets better direction.

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8. steve t on July 12, 2008 1:16 PM writes...

Its no doubt refreshing to see three otherwise highly competitive pharmas getting together to fund technology innovation (the good PR probably justifies the $39 million alone - it won't go far otherwise). But it would be useful to see some concrete examples of the types of technologies they hope to accelerate - they hit on the buzzwords (imaging, biomarkers, efficacy predictors) but missed out the details.

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9. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 14, 2008 4:46 AM writes...

Chris C on July 11, 2008 8:11 PM wrote...

> The senior management of many organizations, even
> academic ones like my own, often have no idea of
> what the real issues are to the foot soldiers...

Very true everywhere. I'm reminded of Dan Rather's "Company Commander Theory." He once told LBJ [President Johnson] that he had been lied to many times by senior officers in Vietnam, but never by any officer at or below the rank of Company Commander, so if the President wanted to know what was REALLY happening on the ground he should invite a bunch of Company Commanders to the White House.

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10. burt on July 14, 2008 9:21 AM writes...

"There are some very smart people involved with this venture, but I don't understand what it *does*, exactly. There's no location, no hiring. Do they just distribute money?"

Sounds very smart to me. Someone will end up with lots of Green.

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11. Jeffrey Clark, CEO of - The Online Community for Life Sciences Professionals on July 15, 2008 1:03 PM writes...

From what we have heard at Beaker, the driver for this investment is the talent involved in the Enlight organization. These three companies have an enormity of respect for the minds driving the ambition to overhaul the drug discovery & development process. And if they cannot recruit them individually, the companies still want their chips bet on this group to achieve great things for the industry.

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