10 June 2010

Industry-university collaboration yields more effective medicines

Located in and around Copenhagen are some of the world's biggest and most innovative pharmaceutical producers. The Øresund Region is at the forefront when it comes to development of tomorrow's medicines, and thanks to a series of formal and informal agreements the students at the University of Copenhagen have access to a network that reaches deep into the corners of the industry.

As part of the course "Research Project in pharmaceuticals and Drug Delivery", a part of the master's programme in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, students work with real-world challenges taken from the labs of the drug industry, while their employees provide advice and technical support.

All in the delivery

Many drugs are unable to be absorbed directly by the body. Others are absorbed by the wrong parts of the body, making them at best ineffective, at worst dangerous. One of the major challenges of the process of developing pharmaceuticals is to find a way to get the active ingredient into the body by finding a form of the drug - known as a medical formula that works.

Peter Popp Wibroe, a pharmaceutical sciences student, is working with a group of other students in the course to create a drug to treat fungal infections in the mouth.

- "There's a gel available that contains the active ingredient miconazole, and we are trying to couple it with cyclodextrines and temperature stabilising particles. Our goal is to create a spray that would increase the drug's effectiveness. We've been able to draw on Lundbeck's expertise in cyclodextrines, but," Wibroe smiles, "you shouldn't expect to see our drug on sale at the chemist any time soon."

Another student, Kim Kristensen, is in a group that is looking to come up with a new tuberculosis vaccine. By making the drug deliverable with an inhaler, the team is looking to take advantage of the immune response in the lungs and to provide an alternative to injections.

- "Novo Nordisk researchers have been working with inhalable insulin for years, and they've really developed a high level of expertise," Kristensen says. His group recently visited the Novo Nordisk headquarters, where Kristensen says they received a warm welcome.

- "We were allowed to use their advanced equipment in our work developing a drug formula for a fictitious antigen.

Formal collaboration

The Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences has historically had close collaborations with the industry. The collaboration has already resulted in the founding of the Drug Research Academy - a commercially oriented PhD programme that seeks to educate researchers who can work in the integrated research communities that characterise modern drug development. The university's partners in the Drug Research Academy include Novo Nordisk, Nycomed, Lundbeck, LEO Pharma, the Danish Medicines Agency and Statens Serum Institut, the Danish national centre for disease prevention.

- "Establishing formal collaboration with the industry at the master's level is something new for us," says Birger Brodin, an associate professor at the Department of Pharmaceutics and Analytical Chemistry, and the advisor for the Research Project in pharmaceuticals and Drug Delivery course

- "In the past, it's been researchers' personal networks that have led to projects that involve master's students. But, as far as I know, this the first time working with a company is explicitly stated in a course description."

Brodin says industry collaboration benefits both sides: "The students get a glimpse of the kind of job they can expect after graduating, and the company can get a closer look at the students in the pipeline. The University of Copenhagen's location is ideal for students looking for work in their field, as well as for arranging a thesis project in one of the host of companies operating in the region."