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N.J.'s Merck, J&J team up with NIH in $230M research partnership

Pharm giants teaming up with 8 other companies, nonprofits to speed the search for promising biological initiatives

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New Jersey pharmaceutical giants, Merck & Co. Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, are teaming up with eight other drug companies, the National Institutes of Health and several nonprofits in an unprecedented $230 million, five-year research partnership to speed the search for promising biological targets of disease and discover ways to combat them.

Experts say traditional drug research currently takes over a decade to develop a new drug. The drugs that make it to this stage have a failure rate of more than 95 percent. In a press conference Tuesday, NIH Director Francis Collins said the goal is to "try to increase the odds of picking the right target to go after for the next generation of drug development—and pick them in the early days."

Collins said now is the right time to push forward because "the science is right" thanks to advances in biology. Just in the last five years, new science of genomics has turned up 1,000 risk factors for common disease, he said.

The basic research will be made public to the biomedical community once promising targets are identified. The research will be public to help kick start "the full competitive power of the pharmaceutical industry" when developing new drugs, he said.

Dr. Mikael Dolsten, president of Worldwide Research and Development at Pfizer, said "this type of novel collaboration will leverage the strengths of both industry and NIH to ensure we expedite translation of scientific knowledge into next generation therapies to address the urgent needs" of patients.

The cost of the project will be split evenly between the pharmaceutical industry and the NIH, Collins said.

"The stars are aligned and the opportunity is ripe to join forces. That 10 companies of this stature are putting in their own resource" speaks to their will "to transform the way we develop medicine," he said.

The Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) is a new initiative that was created over two years ago and is now being launched with a focus on Alzheimer's disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Among AMP's drug firm partners are Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi. There are nine nonprofits in the consortium, including the Alzheimer's Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Dolsten said he is among those scientists who began working with Collins about two years ago on this new initiative. He described drug development as "a landscape where the richness of information is not in a consistent manner brought together. It is fragmented and not easily accessible. It is like traveling in a landscape of biology with no clear sign posts where to go; the map lacks details. A GPS for human disease is urgently needed, because we have patients who are suffering and we are wasting resources and time."


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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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