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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Unravelling New Disease Biology at the Interface Between Academia and the Pharma Industry

Pharmaceutical research and development are very much driven by trends. Examples are statins against hypercholesterolaemia, anti-TNFα antibodies against autoimmune diseases, and PD-1/ PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitors against cancer. Once something works, everyone jumps on it. Consequently, substantial investments are shifted towards incremental improvements or the repurposing of existing therapeutics, at the cost of developing true breakthrough innovations that have the potential to fundamentally change healthcare as we know it today.

At the same time, modern 'omics' technologies are advancing at the speed of Moore’s Law. This means that the pace at which new biological data is generated doubles about every two years. So, why is the development of a truly transformative new therapy still an extremely rare event? Very simple: We call it the ‘validation gap of new disease biology’. To transition from first anecdotal academic evidence to a fully fledged drug discovery programme at Big Pharma, new disease biology needs to be validated. In other words, academic interest usually ends with a high-impact publication, while industry interest starts with a solid industrygrade validation dataset. This is where the pharma industry is in need of new innovation models that bridge the validation gap of new disease biology.

The BioMed X Institute started operations in 2013 with its first pharmaceutical partner, Merck in Darmstadt, Germany. The first projects were based on big research challenges which were jointly identified together with researchers at Merck’s oncology and immuno-oncology discovery units. BioMed X published these challenges on its crowdsourcing platform as a global call for application, inviting early-career researchers at the best universities and research institutions worldwide to apply by submitting a very original project proposal addressing the challenges. The best candidates were invited to a five-day innovation boot camp in Heidelberg where they associated in very diverse groups and received guidance from experienced mentors on how to convert their ideas into truly outstanding project proposals. All teams presented their proposals on the last day of the boot camp in front of the senior R&D management of Merck and BioMed X. The winning teams received a generous four-year research fellowship at the BioMed X Institute and were relocated with their families to Heidelberg.

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Christian Tidona is a biotech entrepreneur, business angel, and founder of the BioMed X Institute in Heidelberg, Germany. He studied molecular biology and received his doctoral degree from the University of Heidelberg. Throughout his entire professional life, his focus was always to seed innovation at the interface between academia and industry. Christian is co-founder of the Health Axis Europe alliance between the European health innovation clusters in Leuven, Maastricht, Copenhagen, and Heidelberg. He is chairman of the Weizmann Young European Network (WYEN), member of the International Board of the Weizmann Institute of Science, and member of the Board of Directors of Yeda, one of the world’s most renowned technology transfer organisations in Israel. Christian is married and the father of two children.

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Christian Tidona
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