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Oxford Works With Drugmakers to Reverse 90% Trial Failure Rate

May 3 (Bloomberg) -- By the time Pfizer Inc., Johnson and Johnson, Elan Corp. and Eli Lilly & Co. announced their experimental medicines had shown limited benefit for Alzheimer’s patients in late-stage testing, the industry and academia had spent more than $30 billion researching amyloid plaque in the brain. Now they are working together to prevent such failures.

Pfizer, J&J, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, AbbVie Inc. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. are each contributing $8 million to the new Target Discovery Institute at Oxford University, which plans to identify better targets for drug development for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes, said Chas Bountra, a drug discovery expert and head of the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford.

By collaborating with Oxford University on the project the drugmakers are seeking to eliminate development of drugs targeting the wrong biological pathways, thereby cutting out billions of dollars of research spending. Once a target has been successfully identified and validated, pharmaceutical companies can compete to develop medicines that manipulate those targets, Bountra said.

“Drug discovery is incredibly expensive, incredibly long-term and incredibly risky,” Bountra said today in Oxford. Developing drugs for the wrong targets is “a tragic waste of resources and a tragedy for patients who need medicines that work.”

Li Ka-Shing

The initiative aims to reverse the 90 percent failure rate of drugs in so-called phase 2, or midstage, clinical trials in humans, said Bountra, a former Glaxo drug discovery scientist.

It forms part of a new research center at Oxford, with 20 million pounds ($31 million) of funding from the U.K. government and 20 million pounds from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s foundation, which will also house the Big Data Institute for mining medical data.

The Li Ka-Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery, inaugurated today, will help doctors better understand health and disease through analysis of medical data from hospital patient records, DNA sequencing, clinical trials and national registries, Oxford University said in a statement.

“The work of this center will identify innovative ways to increase access to health care while lessening the burden of cost,” Li said at Oxford today.

The center will eventually house more than 600 biologists, chemists, statisticians, computer scientists, engineers and clinical scientists.

The U.K.’s National Health Service provides a rich resource of data for the project, Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech today.

“Because it is a national health service, we should be able to go further and faster than others in using large-scale trials and making sure we use the huge amounts of data in the NHS to aid scientific discovery,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Makiko Kitamura in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at

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