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Evoking innovation: Evotec pulls together innovation center for fragment-based drug discovery work
July 2007
by Lisa Espenschade  |  Email the author


HAMBURG, Germany, and OXFORD, England—Evotec AG launched its new Innovation Centre for Fragment Based Drug Discovery (FBDD) in late May. The center draws on internal capabilities and outside scientists, and is the first of a series of new business units aimed at providing enhanced access to innovative discovery techniques.
Mark Ashton, Evotec's executive vice president for business development, sees numerous ways the Centre can improve research. "The value, to me," he says, "is bringing innovation in the form of lowering attrition rates, increasing speed, identifying novel chemical matter, and solving certain intractable targets or biological pathways." The centers build on Evotec's experience working with 35 of the world's top 50 pharma companies, says Ashton. "So we have this unique insight into what challenges pharmaceutical and biotech companies face at the moment."
Evotec developed its FBDD technology over the last several years, and its FBDD platform now both leverages and augments a comprehensive menu of discovery and development services.
"What we try to do is come up with novel approaches to a wide range of targets," says Ashton. "And we believe that the fragment-based approach is capable of identifying novel compounds against targets that might not be amenable to more traditional approaches, like high-throughput screening." Fragments, says Ashton, may not be appropriate for high-throughput screening because of weak interactions with proteins.
Evotec's EVOlution platform screens fragments—compounds of low molecular weights—then characterizes how they bind with target proteins. FBDD also analyzes structure early in the process, says Ashton, and "you can get improvements in biological activity far quicker when you start with a fragment." EVOlution uses a fragment library of 20,000 compounds, and X-ray crystallography to examine binding and optimization potential.
Evotec chose FBDD for its inaugural Innovation Centre because the FBDD concept has become more accepted, says Ashton, noting that Astex Therapeutics and Abbott Laboratories also use FBDD. Evotec has actively used FBDD in developing central nervous system expertise, including programs that it hopes to partner with pharmaceutical companies.
Evotec plans to work on additional indications, including inflammation, oncology, and metabolic disorders, probably looking for partners to develop leads. "Evotec is a very partner-focused company," says Ashton. "Everything that we do and every technology that we utilize and establish is really aimed at supporting our partners." He estimates that Evotec works with roughly 150 clients each year. Partners include Celgene, Biogen Idec and Pfizer.
A scientific advisory board of researchers from English institutions will help the FBDD Innovation Centre operate almost like a biotech company, according to Evotec. The five-member group includes Sir Ravinder Nath "Tiny" Maini, former director of the Kennedy Research Institute at Imperial College in London and a rheumatoid arthritis expert, and Dame Louise Johnson, a structural biology specialist directing life sciences at Diamond Light Source.
The advisory board is likely to complement internal technical expertise with support on target selection and programs for identifying chemical matter. "We are excited and delighted that such well regarded scientists have recognized the value of our FBDD technology and have agreed to advise Evotec on the associated research and technology," said Evotec's president and CEO, Jörn Aldag, in a prepared statement.
Additional innovation centers addressing further pharmaceutical industry needs will be announced in late 2007 or early 2008, says Ashton. Ashton can say little about the focus, though, adding only "Watch this space."
Code: E070718



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