- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The National Institute of Health on Tuesday announced a partnership with a handful of major drug companies on a project to dramatically reduce the time it takes to create and market medications that treat debilitating diseases.

The public-private Accelerating Medicines Partnership aims to accelerate what is now an average 14-year process to create new medications — and save billions of dollars in drug-development costs.

The partnership, announced at the National Press Club in the District, is expected to transform the way research is conducted by sharing among the biomedical community resources, data and analysis on potential targets for treatments.

The new approach would help pharmaceutical companies better select medications to pursue in the earliest stages of production — when the failure rate for new drugs is 95 percent.

“We are going to try to increase the odds of picking the right targets to go after for the next generations of drug developers,” NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins said.

As an example, Dr. Collins pointed to research around a protein called “PCSK9.” Researchers discovered that some people who have low levels of the protein because of a rare gene variation also have very low levels of cholesterol and are at less risk of heart disease. Now six pharmaceutical firms are racing to develop drugs that can lower cholesterol by blocking the protein.

Dr. Collins said that too often drugs are found to be ineffective in the late stages of development — after years of work and millions of dollars in research and testing — because scientists chose the wrong biological targets.

Three pilot programs — focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus — are currently underway.

NIH, eight nonprofit organizations and 10 pharmaceutical companies that include Merck, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline collectively will invest $230 million over the next five years for the three pilot programs. The government will contribute $118.9 million, and the industry will contribute $110.6 million.