Takeda builds Bridge to get closer to U.S. universities, share R&D risk

Two scientists in a lab

It's become well-recognized that pharma companies need to move beyond the "not invented here" mindset and tap into the scientific expertise of academic centers. And Takeda just took a big step in that direction.

The Japanese drugmaker has set up a joint venture company--called Bridge Medicines--with the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute (Tri-I TDI), a drug-discovery group set up by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medicine in 2013.

The move ties in with the recognition among big pharma companies that it is not possible to go it alone in R&D if companies want to keep a steady flow of new projects flowing through the pipeline, and there is a need to harness knowledge and expertise residing elsewhere. 

Bridge Medicines' aim is to usher basic research projects through clinical trials and onto the market more efficiently and quickly--with the help of funding from private equity groups Deerfield Management and Bay City Capital. 

"The collaboration could shave a decade off of the typical process to go from a promising discovery to medical use," said Takeda in a statement. Moreover, as a result of the group funding approach "even some riskier--but potentially transformational--ideas can obtain financial support," the company added.

Research projects from the universities that are accepted into the Tri-I TDI will now be able to "graduate" to Bridge Medicines, and get "financial, operational and managerial support," according to the partners. At the moment the institute had around 50 projects on the go.

Once projects are ready for clinical trials, they will be placed into newly formed biopharma companies that will manage them for further clinical development

For Takeda, the focus of its contribution will be to provide medicinal chemistry expertise to early-stage projects, a resource-intensive area that is known to be a bottleneck for some academic research teams and can lead to promising projects being shelved. 

In return the drugmaker gets an unrivalled view of cutting edge projects and closer links to the scientists behind them--and will be well-placed to swoop on those with the greatest potential.

Takeda joins many other drugmakers which have been trying to develop a culture of external collaboration to bolster R&D productivity in the face of rising research costs and greater complexity in drug discovery and development. 

A number of approaches have been tried. For example, Johnson & Johnson has taken the approach of setting up a network of R&D offices in biopharma R&D hot spots--including California, Boston, London and Shanghai, to get geographically closer to research teams. 

Merck & Co. set up an independent R&D institute that helps scientists translate their lab discoveries into new drugs, and GlaxoSmithKline runs a "drug-hunter" competition to encourage researchers to come forward with ideas in the hope of winning support. AstraZeneca and many other companies make use of "talent scouts" to identify promising projects. 

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