ELF is leading the way to discovering new medicines
An EU-and industry-funded project has created an integrated platform which is providing an innovative range of free services, expertise and a huge collection of compounds for researchers who are developing new drugs to treat all types of human diseases.
© European Lead Factory
The European Lead Factory (ELF) is jointly funded by the EU and industry through the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a public-private partnership. It gives researchers access to a library of compounds and a screening service which can help them identify and validate compounds for use in potential new drugs.
“The ELF allows European researchers to identify chemical matter that can serve either as tool to better understand disease mechanisms or even as a starting point for a drug discovery endeavour,” explains project coordinator Stefan Jaroch. “Usually, academic researchers or small biotech companies do not have access to such high-quality screening resources. So, the ELF provides them with the missing link to translate biological innovations into chemical substances.”
The project consortium comprises 30 partners, including academic institutions, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and pharmaceutical companies. The team also includes seven members of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) who decided to open up their previously secret compound libraries to kick-start early-stage research into discovering new medicines.
The EFPIA has contributed more than 300 000 compounds to the project’s Joint European Compound Library (JECL), while a further 200 000 compounds specifically synthesised for the JECL are being provided by SMEs. As of December 2017, JECL already contained 500 095, taking it over the target of 500 000 set at the start of the project.
Researchers can have their target programmes screened at facilities run by the project’s own European screening centre. They are given access to a selected number of compounds with the highest potential for further development at the researcher’s own initiative or possibly in collaboration with EFPIA partners.
The library and screening services are already delivering concrete results. More than 4 500 compounds have made it through the screening process and have been handed over to European academics and SMEs for use in drug-development programmes.
Supply and demand
Demand for ELF services continues to grow: from involving researchers in eight countries in 2013, applications have currently been submitted from 18 countries. In total, 200 industry and academic programmes have been planned and 150 screening campaigns carried out with results delivered for two-thirds of applicants to date. Meanwhile, some 250 compounds based on new chemistries are synthesised daily in ELF and are incorporated into the JECL to be screened in relation to potential drug targets.
Project resources are being used to find new drug treatments in many areas of human health, including cancer, metabolic disease, heart disease, inflammation and immunology, and infectious diseases.
“The ELF target portfolio covers a wide range of therapeutic areas with high societal relevance, also including neglected and rare diseases,” adds Jaroch. “Efforts to either understand disease mechanisms or embark on a drug-discovery programme are made with a long-term perspective to bring therapies to the patient.”
The project is already helping Europe’s pharmaceutical sector deliver real progress. In the UK, the University of Sheffield and a Parkinson’s disease charity have established a biotech company called Keapstone Therapeutics to exploit ELF results. There is a similar story in Sweden where the University of Gothenburg has founded a start-up company called ScandiCure AB to fight diabetes.
In addition, an ELF programme has been taken further into preclinical development within the EU-backed ENABLE project, which aims to find new drugs to combat bacterial infections. In fact, ELF compounds have already entered the preclinical phase for developing treatments for multi-resistant bacteria and cancer.
By providing such valuable resources to the EU’s science community, ELF is playing a leading role in delivering the innovative services and expertise necessary to find and innovative new drugs to the benefit of researchers, the medical industry and patients alike.