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All things Pharma

Opposites attract: Pharma & the third sector


People generally see industry and specific disease charities as being poles apart; strategically, motivationally and even ethically. 

In reality, common denominators between the two apparently alien factions are manifest. Indeed, even their differences; industry’s expertise in development and manufacturing, in contrast to the skills charities possess in the arena of awareness-raising and patient engagement, make them compelling allies, rather than foreign entities.

Evidence of this co-existence and cooperation comes in the form of several dynamic pharma-charity partnerships. Here are some of the most impressive.


Big-C hitters

Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Drug Development


Cancer Research UK’s record of developing novel treatments is comparable to any pharmaceutical company.

Industry partnerships have proved hugely valuable in achieving this; they enable us to translate our world-class research into effective treatments for patients.

Commercial partnerships are at the heart of how we interact with industry. Our team works with pharmaceutical companies, who bring the skills, materials and funding necessary to convert promising scientific discoveries into industrial propositions.

Through Cancer Research UK’s Therapeutic Discovery Laboratory, we bring together the best minds in academic cancer research, with the drive of industry. Multi-project alliances include partnerships with AstraZeneca, Merck and Forma.

Our Centre for Drug Development (CDD) has taken over 120 potential cancer drugs into clinical trials and six have made it to market, with others in development. Through our Clinical Development Partnerships scheme, the centre works with leading pharma companies, on a shared ‘risk-reward’ basis, giving promising new drugs the best chance of making it.

Once clinical data is gathered, companies retain intellectual property rights, or transfer them to Cancer Research UK for a share of revenues.

Thanks to our network of Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres we have the specialist infrastructure to bring innovative treatments to patients through clinical trials. The Combinations Alliance is a unique scheme, run through these centres, where we test novel drug combinations using assets from different companies, with a view to improving standard treatments.

Cancer Research UK’s industry interactions have been proven to benefit patients. The first PARP inhibitor, rucaparib (Rubraca), was discovered by our scientists at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, in collaboration with Agouron and Pfizer. With the help of the CDD, rucaparib entered trials and stimulated interest in PARP inhibitors from other companies. Last year, in the US, the drug was designated a ‘breakthrough therapy’ by the FDA, for patients with advanced ovarian cancer.

We will continue to work closely with industry to accelerate the development of potentially life-saving treatments and beat cancer sooner. Go to cancerresearchuk.org



Heart strings

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation


The British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) vision is a world where people do not suffer or die prematurely from heart disease.

A crucial objective of our strategy is to enhance the translation of cardiovascular research into improved patient care. This goal requires strong relationships; academics can bring scientific know-how and years of experience, while pharma provides drug development and commercial expertise, including access to compound libraries and regulatory advice.

To achieve its mission, the BHF funds academic-led projects that involve pharma, where there is clear potential for patient benefit. For example, The Heart Protection Study, led by the University of Oxford, was jointly funded by the BHF, Medical Research Council, Merck and Roche Vitamins Ltd.

This was a 20,000-patient study that showed the benefits of simvastatin in lowering cholesterol, ultimately leading to a reduction in coronary heart disease risk. We have a clear policy outlining the terms of these collaborations, ensuring that universities have intellectual property rights and that if findings result in commercial success, the university and BHF are recognised. This allows revenue to be re-invested into research.

The BHF has a dedicated funding scheme to accelerate the translation of cardiovascular research. The Translational Award provides funding to de-risk promising innovations, enabling them to secure further investment. The committee assessing opportunities has a range of members with differing backgrounds including medicinal chemistry, drug development and venture capital investment expertise.

They help academics translate their work and attract pharma interest by providing advice, identifying commercial hurdles and shaping project design.

The BHF takes an active role in connecting academics with pharma to further stimulate knowledge exchange. Last year, we held a workshop which included speakers from pharma, investment and regulatory organisations, allowing academics to discover exactly what experts look for when assessing potential projects.

Pharma is keen to learn from academia and we play a role in initiating university visits where industry can find out about specific projects and form mutually beneficial collaborations. Go to bhf.org.uk   



Breathing space

Jason Cater, Director of Fundraising at the British Lung Foundation


A positive, lasting impact on the lives of respiratory patients is an essential shared value for any pharmaceutical partnering with the British Lung Foundation. The relationship must be grounded in the charity’s goals of improving the lives of people living with or affected by a lung condition.

An example of such a partnership is a project calling for improved access to treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) patients.

IPF is a condition that causes continuous scarring of the lungs. The scar tissue stops the lungs doing their job of drawing oxygen from the air and passing it into the blood. For those living with the condition, it means breathing gets increasingly difficult. IPF has no known cure or cause, and affects adults of all ages.

Roche was one of two pharmaceutical companies that funded the dissemination of a report by the charity, which made recommendations to improve outcomes for IPF patients. These included establishing the Taskforce for Lung Health in order to produce a five-year strategy for tackling lung disease and improving access to personalised treatments, diagnosis and support.

The project held a half-day seminar with patients, carers and healthcare professionals, to hear directly what they thought the issues are and what, in an ideal world, the care pathway for IPF should look like. This helped identify key principles for good IPF care, including being centred on the patient and their wishes, making all possible treatment options available and ensuring people in all parts of the country access the same standards of care.

The British Lung Foundation then carried out its own research, identifying areas of best practice and finding policy solutions, which would lead to the changes patients want to see.

Roche and other pharmaceutical expertise was essential to the project and its aims.
Go to blf.org.uk



Force is strong

Professor David Dexter, Deputy Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK


Throughout my years of working in Parkinson’s research, a major barrier to the development of new drugs has been the design of clinical trials. Trials are also, of course, an essential part of discovering safe treatments and, ultimately, a cure for the condition.

The most commonly used drug for Parkinson’s, Sinemet, was developed more than 50 years ago. People with Parkinson’s have waited long enough for better treatments, so Parkinson’s UK decided to make clinical trials smarter and faster.

In 2015, we took the bold step of founding the Critical Path for Parkinson’s (CPP) Consortium, in partnership with the Critical Path Institute. Nine major pharmaceutical companies joined the project in its first year, alongside government agencies, academic organisations and other Parkinson’s charities.

Through the consortium, these members work together to garner support from global regulatory agencies for new ways of designing and carrying out clinical trials. Using clinical data from around 8000 people, recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the CPP Consortium developed a clinical trials simulation platform.

Clinicians can use the platform to determine the optimum length and size of a trial, as well as predicting the likelihood of success. This will lead to more efficiently designed trials, cutting the cost of drug development – historically, a huge obstacle to making progress.

One of the CPP Consortium’s biggest achievements was in 2016 when the European Medicines Agency issued a public letter of support, backing our campaign for the use of a brain scan that identifies the loss of dopamine brain cells, a symptom of Parkinson’s. This can be used as a selection tool to identify Parkinson’s patients more accurately, ensuring we have the most suitable participants for trials.




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John Pinching
John Pinching
John Pinching was editor of Pf Magazine until April 2018.


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