March 10, 2014
A new evaluation by RAND Europe and the Canadian Institute on Governance finds that the Structural Genomics Consortium is a viable model for drug discovery that appeals to investors, not least for advantages in efficiency over current models of public or commercial health research.
The Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) is a large, open-access, public–private partnership consisting of 20 research groups affiliated with the University of Oxford, UK, and the University of Toronto, Canada.
The Structural Genomics Consortium has a mission to catalyse research in new areas of human biology and drug discovery research by focusing on less-well-studied domains of the human genome. The consortium accelerates research in these new areas by making all its research output available to the scientific community with no strings attached and by creating an open collaborative network of scientists in hundreds of universities around the world and in nine global pharmaceutical companies.
Funders — including the Wellcome Trust, several Canadian public sector investors and nine large pharmaceutical companies — jointly choose the research topics, and the results are made freely available to anyone, whether or not they invest directly in the consortium.
This is a new model for organising and funding drug discovery, and one that avoids delays and conservatism associated with the usual peer review process that precedes funding in other settings. Organisers of the SGC say the approach allows the consortium to quickly move into new areas of research and provides an additional approach to traditional methods of setting research priorities.
The Structural Genomics Consortium's current funding phase ends in June 2015. To inform the Consortium Advisory Board's decision on further funding, RAND Europe and the Institute on Governance's evaluation considered the consortium from three perspectives: as a model for investing in knowledge; as a model for generating knowledge; and as model for extracting value from knowledge.
The evaluation found:
- research by SGC is viewed as reliable and highly reproducible, which is valued by investors
- many investors view the SGC as a way to “de-risk” novel areas of science
- many stakeholders cited the fact that the SGC enables rapid and efficient research processes as an incentive for investment
- open access facilitates extensive collaborations across public and private sectors and was welcomed by the clear majority of interviewees
- the mix of public and private investment in the SGC allows it to remain innovative and efficient, in terms of the structures it studies and the methods it develops.
“The Structural Genomics Consortium model for drug discovery raises a host of compelling and related issues,” said Joanna Chataway, senior research leader at RAND Europe and one of the report's authors. “What might be the impact of such models on the quality of science, and the rate and direction of health innovation? What is the future of drug discovery in an era of fewer resources, more open innovation and new models of pre-competitive collaboration? Can open-access initiatives reduce transactions costs, cut out duplication and encourage efficiencies in health research? We may not yet be able to answer these more general questions with certainty, but it is clear that the Structural Genomics Consortium is viewed as successful. And this is significant.”
“Along with its world-class scientific expertise, the extensive collaborations between academia and industry were the most frequently mentioned strength of the SGC; and making the results open access also facilitates collaboration,” said Molly Morgan Jones, lead author of the report and associate director of innovation and technology policy at RAND Europe.
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RAND Europe is an independent, not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis.
Notes on the study methods
The evaluation included several stages: a literature review; key informant interviews with SGC researchers, past and present funders and external stakeholders, and a survey of SGC researchers; a quantitative analysis of the past and current performance track record of the SGC; and the creation of four potential scenarios as ways of thinking about the SGC's priorities in its next funding phase and beyond.