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Drugmakers And NIH Band Together To Speed Up Research

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

The National Institutes of Health is teaming up with major drug companies in a new effort to identify disease-related molecules and biological processes that could lead to future medicines.

The public-private partnership is called AMP, for the "Accelerating Medicines Partnership," and it will focus first on Alzheimer's disease, Type 2 diabetes, and two autoimmune disorders: rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

This is a five-year, $230 million venture. NIH is splitting the cost with industry. In addition to ten companies that include Pfizer, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson, nonprofits like the American Diabetes Association and the Alzheimer's Association have also joined.

They'll work together to identify the most promising biological targets for new therapies. All the scientific data produced by the venture will be shared publicly. "Even if we weren't working with companies we would do this," says Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH. He officially unveiled the partnership at a press event in Washington, D.C., and in a blog post. The Wall Street Journal reported on the venture late Monday.

Collins says after new targets are found, companies can then develop drugs that take advantage of them. The goal is to speed new therapies to market, while avoiding the costly and disappointing failures that currently plague the drug-development process.

The project will be managed by the Foundation for the NIH. It's not the first time that pharmaceutical companies have come together under its leadership to form research consortiums.

What sets this venture apart is its comprehensive approach in prioritizing diseases where the science is evolving and patients' needs are pressing, plus the breadth of this many companies and the NIH working together, says Mikael Dolsten, head of research and development at Pfizer.

"I have considerable enthusiasm that this is unique," says Dolsten. "It's complementary, and we should aspire high here."

Hopefully, the collaboration will help illuminate the fundamental basis of what's driving disease, says Lisa Olson, vice president of immunology research at AbbVie Bioresearch Center, Inc., one of the industry partners. Asked if she had seen a partnership similar to this one before, she said simply, "No."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.