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September 14, 2011
Lilly's Open Screening Program: An Update
I'm still at the RSC/SCI symposium in Cambridge, and a talk yesterday by Marta Pineiro-Nuñez gives me a chance to update this post about Eli Lilly's foray into opening up its screening to outside collaboration. That effort has been working away for the last two or three years, and the company is now revealing some details about how it's been going.
The original plan was to allow people to put compounds into a set of Lilly phenotypic screens. No structures would be revealed, and the company would have "first rights of negotiated access" for any interesting hits. They have a new web gateway for the whole thing, since now they've added several target-based screens to the process. As mentioned in the earlier post, they've come up with a universal Material Transfer Agreement to bring the compounds in, but Pineiro-Nuñez said that this was still a bit of a struggle at first. Small companies were pretty open to the idea, she said, but there were some suspicious responses from academia, with a lot of careful digging through the MTA to make sure that they wouldn't be giving away too much.
But things seem to have gotten going pretty well. According to the presentation, Lilly has 252 affiliations in 27 countries. That breaks down as 174 academic partners and 78 small companies. About 42,000 compounds have been accepted for screening - that's after a firewalled computational screen of the structures to eliminate nasty functional groups and the like. About 40% of the submissions fail the suitability screens, but the single biggest reason is lack of structural novelty - too close to marketed drugs, too close to controlled substances, or too close to things that are already in Lilly's files.
Here's a recent overview of the screening results. In the end, 115 structures were requested for disclosure, and 97 of those ended up being shared with Lilly, who still wanted 13 of them after looking them over. And those have (so far) led to two recent signed collaborations, with one more set to go and two others still in negotiations. The compounds certainly aren't instant clinical candidates, but have been interesting enough to put money on. And so far, the initiative is seen as successful, enough to expand it to more assays.
It'll be interesting to see if more companies try this out. It would seem especially suited for unusual proprietary assays that might be hiding behind industrial walls. Having Lilly demonstrate that a model of this sort can actually work in practice should help - congratulations to them for putting the work in to make it happen.
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