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The vital role of SMEs in medical research


business planet

The vital role of SMEs in medical research

This week’s Business Planet comes from the German city of Bonn. We look at a unique partnership between researchers, universities, pharmaceutical giants and SMEs which is key to providing new treatments for patients and business opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The European Lead Factory

  • In the earlier stages of drug development, researchers need access to a large library of ‘screening’ compounds, so they can search for molecules that could be developed into new drugs.
  • Pharmaceutical companies have built up large libraries of compounds over the years, but publically accessible libraries are rare and expensive, which has hampered the development of innovative drugs.
  • Thanks to the public-private partnership model brought by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), pharmaceutical companies and publically funded partners, including SMEs, have contributed to the European Lead Factory project which houses a unique library of 450 000 compounds.
  • Researchers in universities, SMEs and patient organisations throughout Europe are already benefiting from the project to identify potential drug candidates free of charge, speeding up their drug discovery process.

Useful links

Jan Skriwanek is part of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

IMI is a partnership between the European Union and the European Pharmaceutical Industry,” he told Euronews. “IMI’s objective is to accelerate the development of new drugs, especially in areas where there is a high medical need, such as dementia and antibiotic resistance.”

Business Planet travelled to Dortmund to visit SME Taros

The European Lead Factory aims to accelerate the development of innovative medicines. It’s a unique partnership between the world of researchers , the pharmaceutical industry and SMEs such as Taros, where flexibility and creativity are fundamental.

“We are producing chemical compounds, that are going to be introduced into the European Lead Factory compounds collection, consisting of 500,000 compounds, which are going to be tested against potential drug candidates,” Taros CEO Dimitrios Tzalis told Euronews.


The platform also performs the so-called screening of these chemicals, a key step if we want to produce effective drugs.

In three and a half years, this has enabled the identification of 70 potential active agents that in a later stage may become drug candidates.

“By bridging the gap between the early academic research and the pharmaceutical industry, we have managed to bring potential drug candidates in the fields of neurodegenerative diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and antimicrobial resistance, much closer to the patient,” added Tzalis.

Many SMEs are directly involved in the platform. The project has also helped improve their market performance. Its tools are accessible to all.

“If you are an academic, or a biotechnology company in the field of drug discovery, you can utilise our library and our screening facility, free of charge!”

Being part of a great European network allows access to the expertise of science and industrial pharmaceutical partners. And the chance to open up new European and international markets.”

Entrepreneurs interested in getting involved in the Innovative Medicines Initiative should visit the website for more information.

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