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Dutch Drug Development Heats Up

Government, academia and industry stoke the life sciences fires.

By Allison Proffitt

Nov. 12, 2008 | The Hague, The Netherlands—“Smoke from the Dutch chimney.” That’s what Willem de Laat, managing director of Top Institute Pharma (TI Pharma), calls the goal of life sciences research in The Netherlands, with a fire fed by the government, academia, and industry.

De Laat’s organization is one of the big three public-private partnerships stoking the blaze. TI Pharma, The Center for Translational Molecular Medicine (CTMM), and BioMedical Materials Program (BMM), covering drugs, diagnosis, and devices respectively, are each set up with a funding model drawing cash and in kind resources from Dutch universities, the Dutch government including the Dutch Heart Foundation, Diabetes Foundation, and Kidney Fund, and private companies. Each was created and funded for five years initially, and projects depend on an internationally peer-reviewed call for proposals.

TI Pharma has funding of about $334.5 million for its 4-5 year commission and a directive to conduct ground-breaking, cross-disciplinary research in translational medicine, target finding, and biomarker validation, as well as improving the efficiency of drug development. Research at TI Pharma draws from a matrix of therapeutic areas and enabling technologies including autoimmune diseases, cancer, infectious, brain, and cardiovascular disease; and in silico modeling, biomarkers and bio-sensing. Each of the 42 projects launched in 2007 must have three partners including both academia and industry. The impressive list of companies on TI Pharma’s partner list includes GlaxoSmithKline, Lilly, Amgen, AstraZeneca, and Galapagos.

The High Tech Campus at Eindhoven was started by Philips and now houses 51 companies.

CTMM’s focus is on early detection in vitro and in vivo and personalized treatments. With five-year funding of about $514 million, CTMM released its first call for proposals last fall and chose nine projects in cardiovascular, oncology, and neurology. The organization is based on the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, and some of their fellow residents count among their partners: Philips, Organon, DSM, AstraZeneca and a bevy of smaller biotech companies.

BMM is focusing on drug delivery, organ replacement, and passive and active scaffolds in four disease areas: cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, oncology, and nephrology. With almost $116 million for the first five years, seven projects were selected from the first call for proposals, and BMM has attracted partners including Philips, FujiFilm, Medtronic, and several Dutch universities.

Genomic Infrastructure
While CTMM, BMM, and TI Pharma make up the translational research leg of the Dutch life sciences knowledge infrastructure, The Netherlands Genomics Initiative, founded in 2002, forms the exploratory research leg. Sixteen genomics centers make up NGI in the 2008-2012 funding cycle with a budget of $348 million. Centers are dedicated to medical systems biology, bioinformatics, proteomics, forensics, toxicogenomics, celiac disease, ecogenomics, and nutrigenomics. NGI also runs  Centre for Society and Genomics.

The applied science leg of research resides in The Netherlands’ science parks. Leiden Bio Science Park hosts approximately 60 life sciences companies, eight institutes, and Leiden University Medical Center. The work done there ranges from research and discovery, product and process development to clinical trials, manufacturing, and sales.

Several Dutch public research institutes are based in Leiden including TI Pharma. LifeLines is a public Biobank studying aging across 165,000 participants from three generations with data collection dating back 30 years. TNO is The Netherlands Organization for Applied Research, an independent research organization focusing on telecom, defense, life sciences, and other areas of science. TNO Pharma determines safety and efficacy of drugs and translates in vitro and preclinical in vivo findings to humans.

The High Tech Campus at Eindhoven was started by Royal Philips Electronics in 1999. Today the campus is home to 51 residents including Philips, Sun, Accenture, and IBM, along with independent research organizations including CTMM, BMM, and the Holst Centre, an R&D institute that develops generic technologies for autonomous wireless transducer solutions. The ambition is to become a leading hotspot for high tech human focused innovation.

Maastricht sits at the heart of the Meuse Rhine Triangle, an area covering German, The Netherlands, and Belgium. The area is home to 23 medical device companies including Medtronic, and 48 other life sciences companies including genomic and proteomic research, plant biotech, nutraceuticals, and regenerative medicine research. 


This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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