An Integrated Research Platform for Novel Target and Lead Discovery

Medicinal Bioconvergence Research Center: An Integrated Research Platform for Novel Target and Lead Discovery

by Thomas X. Neenan and Sunghoon Kim


In 2010, the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) launched the Global Frontier Project, targeted at solving global challenges in major R&D areas. The Medicinal Bioconvergence Research Center (Biocon) was initiated as one of the three projects with the aim to resolve difficulties during the development of novel drug discovery. Recently celebrating its fifth anniversary, this article briefly describes Biocon’s past, present and future.

The objective of the pharmaceutical industry is to develop and market new drugs, and a useful metric is to correlate the number of new drugs approved to the investment made and to the length of the approval process. In this regard, trends in the industry are not encouraging. While 2014 was a noteworthy year with 41 new drug approvals in the US, the average number of US drug approvals remains steady at approximately 25 new approvals per year. Indeed the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) reports that the number of new drug applications (NDAs) from sponsors has remained relatively stable over time. The relevant data suggest that the bottleneck to introducing new medical therapies on the shelf is not within the approval agencies, rather the cause lies within the drug development process itself. In this regard, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Annual Membership Survey (2014), indicates that the amount of R&D investment by PhRMA Member Companies has doubled from year 2000 to 2014 and a leap from in investment of $26B to $51B while the number of drug approvals in the same period has remained remarkably stable.

Team Structure

20010020b.jpgA global challenge remains therefore in how to increase the efficacy of the drug discovery process. Biocon began its mission in 2010 with an aim of addressing some of the roadblocks to faster drug discovery. As medicine becomes more personal and stratified, Biocon recognized that the biggest bottleneck in drug discovery is to identify novel therapeutic targets and biomarkers that can accurately address various human diseases. During the first five years, Biocon focused on novel therapeutic target discovery and validation that could be used by industry to develop new therapeutic compounds with a higher probability of success. With the financial support of about 140 million dollars and a projected time-line of 9 years, Biocon has leveraged a unique capability to discover and validate molecular pathways and targets at a level that is possible at few commercial enterprises. In addition, the unique spoke and wheel management structure of Biocon, wherein a central core group of researchers coordinates and directs the activities of a large group of consortium members, allows a rich diversity of talent and expertise to be brought to bear in a focused way (Fig. 1).

While Biocon currently consists of thirty principle investigators in different fields who are affiliated to major domestic universities, institutions and hospitals, it also runs close collaborative work with partners outside of Korea including the US, EU, Japan and China.

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