Open Innovation Part 2 – The Current & Future Role of the SGC

Susan Boyd*


Continuing the open innovation theme from our last newsletter, the SGC have recently been talking about their latest initiatives to enable open access to key data which should boost the efficiency of drug discovery efforts in the UK and beyond.  In a barnstorming talk at the RSC/SCI Med Chem Symposium in Cambridge this month, Professor Chas Bountra of the SGC presented a vision for a future open innovation model which could radically enhance our current approach to pharmaceutical research and development.

The SGC is a PPP (public -private-partnership) comprising several public, charitable and private funders, including 8 large pharmaceutical companies, and is based at the Universities of Oxford and Toronto. They work closely with a network of over 250 academic labs across the world, and ensure public access to all data and reagents generated.

Already the SGC has an impressive track record. Since they started depositing crystal structures in the PDB back in 2005, they have now solved more kinase structures than academia and overtook pharma on this metric back in 2008. Indeed, they have solved a significant portion of all novel human protein structures currently available, at one point generating up to 25% of the yearly global output. They have pioneered structural biology in several new target classes such bromodomains.  As well as making all crystallographic data publicly available, the SGC generate proteins, assays, antibodies and high-potency/high-specificity, cell-permeable inhibitors to aid target validation, all placed in the public domain without any patent issues. The SGC always ensure that everything generated is available to all, without restrictions on use and access. As a result, due to unencumbered access, the SGC outputs have advanced science in many areas, led to new proprietary programmes in pharma and the establishment of new biotechs.

Now, however, they are hoping to go a stage further.  Given that Phase II is still very much the ‘graveyard’ for many potential drugs, with over 90% of candidates against new targets failing at Phase IIa or IIb, Prof Bountra and colleagues are proposing a new PPP to help validate pioneer targets in patients. The new consortium would bring together academic and industrial scientists, with active participation from patient groups and regulators, and would cover the full range of activities from lead identification through to Phase IIa. Throughout the process, the groups involved would make reagents publicly available, and would be encouraged to publish data.  After Phase IIa readout, data on targets found to be mechanistically invalidated would be published quickly, whilst more promising programmes would be advanced to develop novel molecules (using a proprietary development model, where appropriate). The project has already been initiated in cancer, and plans are underway to begin studies in neuro-psychiatry.

As the face of the drug discovery landscape has changed so profoundly in the last decade, so the open innovation concept continues to evolve to embrace and enhance efforts in this area. This is a bold, dynamic concept from the SGC, which, if successful, could radically benefit UK drug discovery research.


* I would like to acknowledge the considerable assistance of Dr Lee Wenhwa of the SGC in the preparation of this article