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Collaboration is the key to accelerating drug development, says Lhasa Limited.

A wide array of innovations, particularly around technology, has improved the productivity of clinical laboratories in recent years. However, labs and scientists remain under pressure to reduce costs, improve turnaround time, and increase efficiency through compound design and selection, without diminishing the quality of their results. Faced with intensive competition and the need to contain costs, some laboratories are seeking to cooperate with other organisations and are forming strategic alliances to enhance efficiency and reduce cost. The challenge, of course, is to find the right partner.

Lhasa Limited, which started life within the Chemistry department at the University of Leeds, has made collaboration central to its ethos. Founded in 1983 as a not-for-profit organisation and educational charity to deliver public benefit through the collaborative development and use of computer-aided reasoning in scientific software, Lhasa originally employed only a handful of scientists. The founder members of Lhasa were interested in LHASA (Logic and Heuristics Applied to Synthetic Analysis), a computer system developed in conjunction with Harvard University, to assist chemists in the design of complex organic molecule syntheses.

Fast forward to today and Lhasa is a fast-growing global organisation, employing 140 people across operations in Leeds, Newcastle, Poland and the USA. It has more than 350 members worldwide, including the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies, leading consumer products manufacturers, top universities and academics, regulatory bodies, government organisations and charities. The focus of the organisation has changed and, working closely with its members and the broader scientific community, Lhasa has focused its efforts on the creation of user-friendly, state-of-the-art in silico prediction and database systems to support chemists and laboratories in expediting their drug developments. Two of these software programmes – Derek Nexus and Sarah Nexus – have been recognised in the innovation category of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for two consecutive years.

Derek Nexus is considered to be the market leader for predicting toxicity, having been adopted by many pharmaceutical and chemical companies, regulators, and academic institutions worldwide. Using structure- activity relationships created by Lhasa’s scientific experts, Derek Nexus provides an early indication of the potential toxicity of query compounds and, by generating scientifically robust and well-reasoned predictions, it can be used to fill gaps within in-house data.

Also widely used to support the pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetic related industries is Sarah Nexus, which allows scientists to rapidly assess the potential mutagenicity of chemical compounds to aid decisions about them, shortening development cycles, reducing the need for animal testing, and leading to the earlier market availability of safe, potentially life enhancing, new chemical entities and drugs.

Lhasa understands the level of fierce competition within the industry and enables members to share data and collaborate without disclosing commercially sensitive information. It has created a framework to enable members to contribute knowledge to the development and refinement of structure-activity relationships in their field of interest, without compromising the confidentiality of their proprietary data. Today, Lhasa Limited continues to enable organisations to pool their resources, both financial and intellectual, for the benefit of the entire membership and the public at large. One example of this effective collaboration is Lhasa’s involvement in the eTOX project, which aimed to develop innovative methodological strategies and novel software tools to better predict the toxicological profiles of new drug candidates. Lhasa acted as a central contributor to eTOX through the hosting and managing of all confidential data shared by the pharmaceutical partners.

Pre-competitive and even competitive collaboration is becoming more commonplace in industry as organisations look to work together for mutual gain. The benefits to be seen from collaboration include cost savings, reduced environmental impact or the derivation of knowledge that would be unfeasible by one organisation alone. The mission of any medical laboratory is to improve patient care by improving the speed and quality of testing. To be best positioned for the future, Lhasa believes laboratory leaders should therefore focus on greater efficiency by collaborating, sharing data and seeking out new value- adding partnerships. Tomorrow’s Laboratories | 17

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