The UK-based Universities of Dundee, Oxford and Edinburgh have announced the formation of the Phenotypic Discovery Initiative (PDi) in collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V. (Beerse, Belgium). The partners will design and build phenotypic assays, focusing on human-derived systems, with the aim of identifying novel drug targets and hit molecules. Promising candidates will be further studied to determine their mechanism of action in the cell, in order to facilitate their development into drugs.
Phenotypic changes are a factor in most diseases, and an ongoing challenge for drug discovery lies in identification and validation of novel biological targets that are critical in the development of a disease, or in sustaining it. Compounds developed using classical molecular target-based approaches have often shown poor efficacy in human clinical trials.
High-throughput phenotypic screening can potentially discover drugs that act through new pathways, as well as novel targets with unique mechanisms, as they include the complex characteristics of tissues and cells in both healthy and diseased samples. The PDi anticipates that compounds discovered utilizing this technique will have a higher probability of success in clinical trials.
The PDi will provide pre-competitive access to technology, assay techniques and high-throughput data, as well as practical knowledge and materials. The assays will be used to screen publically available small molecules at the three universities, which together form the National Phenotypic Screening Centre hubs. Industry partners will then gain access to the developed assays to facilitate drug discovery in partnership with their academic collaborators.
The PDi aims to involve additional partners and translate novel research from academic collaborators worldwide. Dashyant Dhanak, Global Head of Discovery Sciences, at Janssen R&D, a division of Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V., announced, “We are excited to be working with three of the most scientifically outstanding and prestigious UK academic centres. We expect this initiative not only to add depth and state-of-the-art capability to our phenotypic screening activities but also to allow access to the best of ideas and talent in the application of this promising technology.”