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March 1, 2010
Volume 88, Number 9
p. 14
Article appeared online February 26, 2010

Drug Firms Create Cancer Nonprofit

Research: Lilly, Merck, and Pfizer target disease in Asia

Lisa M. Jarvis

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Group will focus on cancers that disproportionately affect Asians. Shutterstock
Group will focus on cancers that disproportionately affect Asians.

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In an unusual move, Eli Lilly & Co., Merck & Co., and Pfizer are joining forces to tackle the most common cancers in Asia. The Asian Cancer Research Group (ACRG), a nonprofit, will create a publicly available pharmacogenomic cancer database in hopes that the information will speed the development of diagnostics and treatments for cancer.

Funding for the multi-million-dollar initiative will be provided equally by the three companies, says a Lilly spokeswoman. The first task will be to identify partners in industry and academia across Asia who will collect and analyze tumor tissue samples. The companies will jointly create procedures for sample collection and analysis to ensure data quality.

Lilly’s Singapore Center for Drug Discovery will then be responsible for making the data available to the public. Any researcher, including those in industry, can use the genetic data to tailor current treatments to the Asian population, develop diagnostics, or jump-start research into new drug targets.

“A rising tide floats all ships,” says a Merck spokesman, explaining that such a database can feed back into the company’s own drug discovery and development efforts.

ACRG’s initial focus will be on lung cancer, because researchers have shown that Asians disproportionately express a mutation of the epidermal growth factor receptor, which is responsible for cell growth and proliferation of the cancer. Another focus will be gastric cancer, which the companies say has reached epidemic proportions in some Asian countries.

The deal is part of “a growing trend in sharing precompetitive information in order to enhance the pace and progress of research,” the Lilly official says.

Indeed, this is not the first time that these drug companies have collaborated to accelerate innovation. Lilly, Merck, and Pfizer were the first companies to back Enlight Biosciences, a joint venture started in 2008 to search academia for breakthrough technologies that fundamentally change how research is done. Enlight is primarily managed by executives from the life sciences fund PureTech Ventures, with the drug companies providing input into where the technology gaps exist.

According to Merck, one of the masterminds of ACRG within the company was Stephen Friend, who later founded Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit group that aims to establish open network databases that could be used to create better disease models (C&EN, May 25, 2009, page 12).

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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