Alzheimer’s Research UK has appointed three Chief Scientific Officers to drive its £30million Drug Discovery Alliance. The Alliance, which unites three Drug Discovery Institutes at the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and University College London, is a unique drug discovery venture in dementia research.

The Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance will couple the deep disease knowledge and biology expertise of the academic community with high quality, innovative drug discovery capabilities. The Alliance will accelerate the discovery of novel, effective therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr John Skidmore, Dr John Davis and Prof Paul Whiting will head up the Cambridge Drug Discovery Institute, the Oxford Drug Discovery Institute and the UCL Drug Discovery Institute, respectively. Together, they bring decades of drug discovery experience, spanning the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, as well as academia.

Dr John Skidmore is a medicinal chemist, with a wealth of expertise working in the neurodegeneration and pain disease areas at GSK. Most recently, he has been leading drug discovery projects at the University of Cambridge, funded through the Wellcome Trust’s Seeding Drug Discovery Scheme. He said:

“Drug discovery in an academic setting has gained traction over recent years and the pharmaceutical industry is no longer the sole port of call for target development and lead optimisation. Nearly a fifth of drugs recently approved by the EMA originated from academic and publicly-funded drug discovery programmes, and we’ve seen particular successes in the field of oncology. Dementia is a huge area of unmet clinical need and one that we can tackle by uniting the growing understanding of the underlying disease provided by academia with the broad drug discovery expertise of the Drug Discovery Alliance.”

Dr John Davis has 20 years of drug development expertise, from target to Phase IIa, and has helped steer a dozen drug candidates into clinical development. Discussing the Drug Discovery Alliance’s approach, he said:

“We’ll be taking a broad and collaborative approach to target identification, drawing on discoveries being made by academic researchers in the UK, as well as further afield. We also seek to augment our target development capabilities, making extensive use of disease specific in vitro and in vivo models for robust validation. The Oxford Drug Discovery Institute is well placed for biomarker discovery and the theme of companion biomarkers will run through the drug discovery pipeline; in the first instance to demonstrate target engagement and then for selection and stratification in clinical trials.”

Prof Paul Whiting has built his career through over 20 years of pharmaceutical neuroscience drug discovery, and has published extensively in the field. He said:

“The Drug Discovery Alliance is a fantastic opportunity to make tangible steps towards treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. While we will draw on individual strengths within our host institutions to drive innovation and progress, the three Institutes will keep an open dialogue to maximise potential for developing promising targets. We are interested in hearing from academic scientists with ideas and proposals for exploration as potential therapeutic targets, and encourage informal dialogue.”

As well as seeking academic partners, the Drug Discovery Alliance is looking to interact with industrial collaborators to support the development of the portfolio through a variety of drug discovery functions. The three CSOs are now recruiting to their drug discovery teams to drive forward the work of the Alliance.

Dr Simon Ridley, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“The Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance is an ambitious and joined up approach to Pharma-standard drug discovery within major academic centres of dementia research, and one of only a few such approaches in the world. We’re delighted to welcome on board three experienced CSOs, who share our vision and drive. The Drug Discovery Alliance is a call to action to the academic community and will act as a conduit between basic research and treatments in the clinic. The CSOs will collaborate extensively to ensure multiple parallel approaches are tested and developed – a concerted effort to tackle society’s greatest medical challenge.”