The role of IT initiatives by the European "Innovative Medicines Initiative" in supporting drug discovery

Sheraz Gul

We are currently witnessing an expansion in the disciplines encompassing drug discovery outside the pharmaceutical industry. This is most notable with a significant number of Universities worldwide now hosting infrastructures such as compound libraries and automated screening systems.
These are extensively being utilised in small molecule drug discovery projects which aim to identify chemical starting points that modify the functions of targets implicated in disease processes. For reasons of high risk and cost, drug discovery has historically been conducted within the commercial sectors. However, we are now also witnessing an increase in public-private initiatives where a number of stakeholders collectively work together to solve specific problems. So I'd like to look at how the European "Innovative Medicines Initiative" (IMI) is supporting drug discovery.
The IMI is a joint undertaking between the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and is Europe’s largest public-private partnership with a budget of €2 billion. A major goal of IMI is to improve pharmaceutical R&D in Europe and to speed up the development of more effective and safer medicines for patients, and it does this by creating networks of innovation in pharmaceutical R&D.
A large number of ongoing projects covering a wide range of pharmaceutical R&D areas have been approved by IMI and EFPIA and these have generated a number of peer-reviewed publications in high ranking journals and useful drug discovery IT tools that are publically available. Examples of IMI funded projects that are associated with a large IT related tasks are listed below.
eTOX – Integration of bioinformatics and chemoinformatics approaches for the development of expert systems allowing the in silico prediction of toxicities: Development of innovative strategies and novel software tools to better predict the safety and the side-effects of new candidate medicines for patients. A library of public resources has been created ( that collates from the literature and the internet relevant data related to drug toxicity [Cases, M et al. (2013) The eTOX library of public resources for in silico toxicity prediction, Mol. Inf.].
Open PHACTS – The open pharmacological concepts triple store: Development of an open access innovation platform via a web approach that is comprised of data, vocabularies and infrastructure needed to accelerate drug-oriented research. The aim is to develop an enabling resource for drug discovery projects which is open to all users and freely available in the public domain [Williams, AJ et al. (2012) Open PHACTS: semantic interoperability for drug discovery, Drug Discovery Today].
eTRIKS – Delivering european translational information & knowledge management Services: Development of an open, sustainable translational research informatics/knowledge management platform based on agreed standards.
EMIF – European Medical Information Framework. development of an information framework of patient-level data that will link up and facilitate access to diverse medical and research data sources, opening up new avenues of research for scientists with the initial focus on obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
EHR4CR – Electronic health records systems for clinical research: Development of a platform to enable the use of electronic health records that would allow for more efficient medical research and run pilots e.g. security, data quality and data storage solutions.
The above examples demonstrate that projects that have a large IT component can be successfully performed by public-private partnerships when managed and funded by reputable organisation such as IMI and EFPIA.
Dr Sheraz Gul, Vice President & Head of Biology, European ScreeningPort GmbH, Schnackenburgallee 114, D-22525 Hamburg, Germany; email:
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