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Aarhus University and the pharmaceutical industry join forces on open innovation – a pathway to new medicines

Aarhus University and the pharmaceutical industry join forces on open innovation – a pathway to new medicines

11 Mar 2020

The life sciences are world class in Denmark, but the ability to convert research results into new products and solutions can still be improved.

This is the basic idea behind the Open Discovery Innovation Network (ODIN), a pilot project that will be a free space for the next three years. Without the restrictive framework of patents, ODIN will boost and use the collective thinking and creativity of the participating university researchers and nine pharmaceutical and biotech companies, enabling them to refine ideas and accelerate projects. The project is based on a concept that Aarhus University has developed over several years.

“I am delighted that an environment is being established at Aarhus University that can tap into the strong competencies in pharmaceutical development of the university and industry. The pilot project is based on close collaboration between basic research and many companies in the first small steps towards developing new medicine. Another great potential for the project is that it can be expanded to other areas such as green tech and thus be a role model for new partnerships between research and industry,” says Niels Peder Nielsen, Deputy CEO, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Mutual benefits
The overall ambition is to create accelerated and more effective discovery of new pharmaceuticals by having a strong foundation of basic knowledge and analytical tools that everyone can access – including competing companies. Pharmaceutical companies use many resources in patenting new drugs, but they need many of the same analytical tools and knowledge for the earliest stages of product development. That is why collaboration is attractive.

“This initiative is especially interesting, since it links different forms of collaboration and creates a platform that will increase the opportunities for building bridges between industry and academia. This will create entirely new synergy opportunities for the life sciences in Denmark, and we expect it to be a win–win model for the pharmaceutical industry, biotech and academia,” says Niclas Nilsson, Head of Open Innovation in Research, LEO Pharma, one of the participating companies.

University researchers receive access to companies’ know-how and automation expertise – and several companies, for example, have made their own screening libraries and molecules available, which can boost and accelerate researchers’ work.

The ODIN network currently comprises researchers from the natural, technical and health sciences faculties at Aarhus University as well as industry partners, including Novo Nordisk A/S, LEO Pharma A/S, H. Lundbeck A/S, Boehringer Ingelheim and Nordic Bioscience. Other companies and researchers are welcome to participate in the project.

“A university lives by sharing knowledge and good ideas, and ODIN’s open format provides the basis for both researchers and companies to do just that. I am therefore sure that ODIN will benefit the participants – and ultimately Denmark. This is a key part of Aarhus University’s strategy that we want to strengthen collaboration between research and business, and our experience with open science suggests that this is a good model that can greatly benefit both parties,” says Brian Bech Nielsen, Rector, Aarhus University.

The ODIN collaboration should make it easy for researchers and companies to create the building blocks that are important for developing future medicines – for example, developing new platforms and techniques for testing the specificity and unintended effects of medicine – which do not have much commercial value by themselves. Although ODIN’s open results cannot be patented, everyone is free to customize and, based on that, develop products that can be commercially protected.

The collaboration is the first of this type in Denmark, but experiences from initiatives abroad, such as the Structural Genomics Consortium in Oxford, indicate great potential.

All participants are free to offer solutions or ideas to qualify projects. Participation is voluntary, so only projects that appeal to both parties take off. Once this happens, the grant from the Foundation will fund research capacity in the form of employing postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and others.

The Foundation’s grant of DKK 54.5 million will fund the ODIN secretariat and Aarhus University’s part of the research projects for three years.

Further information

Anders Rosendahl, Senior Press Officer, aro@novo.dk, +45 4048 3766

Marie Louise Conradsen, Head of Open Science, Aarhus University, mlco@au.dk, +45 9350 8496