Bayer Healthcare’s Grants4Targets program was launched in 2009 as a way of bringing new participants and ideas into the drug discovery pipeline, especially in areas like cardiology, oncology, and gynecology, reported Khusru Asadullah, M.D., who serves as head of global biomarkers at Bayer. About a year ago, the program was broadened to include biomarkers explicitly.
This reflected the program’s initial success as a catalyst for drug discovery research, Bayer’s interest in the field of biomarkers, and the fact that some early applications concerned molecules that could conceivably represent both drug targets and biomarkers. Applications written purely from a biomarker perspective are now receiving funding, and Dr. Asadullah anticipates seeing many more of these proposals in the future.
While applications from all sources are permitted, the program is designed especially “to provide something of a door-opener for academic groups that may not have experience collaborating with big pharma,” Dr. Asadullah said.
Unusual features of the Grants4Targets program include the simple application, fast review process (about eight weeks from submission to decision), lack of intellectual property restrictions, and partnering of grant recipients with specific Bayer scientists.
According to Dr. Asadullah, many grant recipients consider the access to industry resources at least as valuable as the grant money itself. “We provide to every project an internal Bayer scientist as a kind of caretaker,” he said, “and we are trying to support the projects by giving advice, and sometimes even by providing data and running some experiments and applying technologies that might not be available at the academic site.”
Overall, the Grants4Targets has received about 600 applications to date and made 77 awards. While it is too early to expect many success stories from the biomarker side, one drug target project has already progressed to lead optimization at Bayer, and another is at the lead-generation stage.