A partnership between the UK lab automation company Arctoris and Swiss software firm Molecule aims to make it easier to share drug intellectual property in a time of declining returns in pharma.
The pharmaceutical industry is struggling with the rising costs of developing new drugs. In fact, the return on investment for drug discovery is estimated to hit 0% in the next few years. This is due to a mixture of factors, including the increasing prevalence of complex chronic diseases like cancer and more demanding regulatory hurdles.
“The drug discovery ecosystem is under huge pressure — we are entering the era of precision medicine, in other words, the end of the one-size-fits-all approach for therapeutics,” Martin-Immanuel Bittner, co-founder and CEO of Arctoris, told me.
“This poses great challenges for the whole industry, compounded by rising costs and the widespread lack of reproducibility of research findings.”
In the new partnership, Arctoris and Molecule aim to improve drug discovery by making it cheaper and easier to share drug IP. Molecule brings to the table open source software where people can collaborate and get investments for drug IP with fewer legal and financial obstacles than in current systems. Arctoris, on the other hand, is developing a robot-driven drug discovery service where clients can ‘order’ automated experiments done online.
Once the technology is combined, global collaborators on the Molecule software could carry out preclinical experiments remotely with robots. This could make it easier to complete scientific studies and provide more reproducible results than experiments done manually.
“The integrity of a robotics lab in combination with blockchain-based data security and high degrees of standardization in early-stage research made this partnership a very obvious one,” Tyler Golato, Chief Scientist at Molecule, said to me.
According to Golato, small IP holders such as biotech startups could benefit greatly from this partnership, as it could give them the funding they need to get projects off the ground.
“The cost and resource demands of drug development … largely prevent ‘smaller’ stakeholders in drug development, such as academic researchers and small biotechs, from competing with large pharmas,” Golato said.
“We are hoping to level the playing field a bit and create structures for the smaller players to work together and innovate.”
However, stakeholders from across the industry could also use this automation system to their advantage, according to Bittner.
“Academics will benefit from a platform to fund and progress their drug discovery project, funders will benefit from greater transparency and efficiency, pharma companies will benefit from access to curated assets, and patients will benefit from better drugs reaching them faster,” Bittner said.
The partners are now looking for projects to test out their collaboration, and aim to launch a first proof-of-concept project in the next several months.
There are many players in the lab automation space aiming to streamline drug discovery, such as US firm Transcriptics and London-based Cytera Cellworks, all with different focuses. According to Bittner, AI will also play a big role in alleviating the pharma innovation crisis, and this will depend on how reproducible the data underlying drug discovery is.
“Regulators are also increasingly aware of the need for greater transparency and quality control, and so are the funding bodies,” Bittner told me. “In 10 years, we are going to see a very different landscape compared to today, with a far greater emphasis on the data that fuels drug discovery.”
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