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Pharma Maker Crowdsourcing for Drug Delivery Partners

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2 February 2018. The global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is looking for collaborators to develop treatments for disease using nucleic acids delivered with cell-penetrating peptides. The deadline for proposals is 16 March 2018, but funds awarded for the winning entries will be negotiated separately.

The call for partners is conducted through InnoCentive in Waltham, Massachusetts that provides open-innovation, crowdsourcing competitions for corporate and organization sponsors, in this case AstraZeneca. Free registration is required to see full details of the competition.

AstraZeneca hopes to take advantage of advances in research on peptides, short chains of amino acids, with the ability to penetrate cell membranes. The company wants to apply this technology for the delivery of nucleic acids, such as ribonucleic acid, or RNA molecules transcribed from a person’s genetic code in DNA. Early studies, says AstraZeneca, suggest cell-penetrating peptides can boost the effectiveness of nucleic acid treatments. A key outcome sought in this crowdsourcing campaign is the ability to escape or bypass the barriers imposed by cell membranes that impede biologic therapies, including nucleic acids.

The initial goal of the collaboration is the design of screening studies using phage-display methods that expose interactions among proteins, peptides, or nucleic acids. These screening techniques harness bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria to connect proteins or peptides to their genetic codes. AstraZeneca is also seeking expertise on delivery of oligonucleotides — short chains of nucleic acids —  modified messenger RNA, and genomic editing with Crispr-Cas9, for therapeutic targets in the pancreas, islet cells, kidneys, liver, and lungs.

InnoCentive calls this type of competition an electronic request for proposals, or eRFP, where participants already have some form of the technology that can be applied to the sponsor’s requirements. These first proposals should be no more than 10 pages and offer only non-confidential information. Unlike most open-innovation challenges, an eRFP does not have fixed prize amounts, but financial and intellectual property terms are negotiated individually with participants submitting proposals selected by the sponsors.

AstraZeneca appears to have a continuing interest in peptide therapeutics. In December 2016, Science & Enterprise reported on an AstraZeneca licensing deal with Bicycle Therapeutics in the U.K. for synthetic peptides, also identified with phage displays.

The deadline for submissions is 16 March 2018. InnoCentive will first review proposals and forward the leading candidates to AstraZeneca, which will make its final assessment and select the finalists. AstraZeneca will then negotiate with the finalists over licensing terms and arrange further collaboration steps as needed. No timetable for this process is given.

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