It’s like owning the world’s first spaceship; an incredibly powerful and cutting-edge device capable of speeding across the universe. But there’s no guidance system. So, you end up either flying in circles, or colliding disastrously with an interstellar object. Many of the most innovative compounds that enter clinical trials suffer a similar fate. They each hold great potential, and are borne out of ingenious clinical research – but because scientists don’t fully understand the role biological processes play in disease, these compounds lack discernible targets. They are left to flounder in the bodies of test subjects, often resulting in unwanted side-effects – and disqualification from further development. The problem of poor biological targeting means 90% of these new high-powered compounds never make it onto pharmacy shelves.

Better targeting with big data and teamwork

On a mission to improve biological targeting, a new initiative called the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV) plans to gather some of sharpest minds in the industry to analyse enormous accumulations of big data. Combining intelligence from the fields of genomics, proteomics, chemistry and disease biology, CTTV represents an unprecedented collaboration meant to dramatically improve the way we discover and test new medicines. By examining current challenges through a range of scientific lenses, researchers hope to successfully build on existing targeting techniques like preclinical animal modelling and disease epidemiology. With this fortified arsenal of research and practical approaches, more new drugs are expected to survive tough pharmaceutical quality assurance protocols– and ultimately, benefit needy patients.

The best minds in the business

CTTV unites an international research team drawn from scientific institutes and the pharmaceutical industry. The renowned Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will contribute their top geneticists, while the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) will assist in integrating massive streams of experimental data. GlaxoSmithKline will bring its knowledge of disease biology, translational medicine and drug discovery to the table. The diverse group will be headed by CTTV’s Dr. Erwan Birney, an accomplished geneticist and bioinformatics expert who will steer the efforts of this extraordinary league of scientists.

Non-competitive information sharing

Although highly unorthodox in the pharma industry, CTTV will embrace a non-competitive model, intending to share the results of its collective labour in peer-reviewed journals. Professor Dame Janet Thornton, Director of EBI says that “maximizing our use of ‘big data’ in the life sciences is critical for solving some of society’s most pressing problems” and that collaborations like CTTV are “crucial for improving efficiencies.” Industry professionals and students in pharmaceutical courses understand that the fundamental purpose of drug discovery is to benefit society at large. CTTV’s new business model serves as a refreshing reminder that Big Pharma – historically criticized for its preoccupation with Big Profits – can prioritize patients’ needs above its own bottom line.