The last few years have seen mergers acquisitions and the downsizing of a number of major pharmaceutical companies. Alongside this, a growing number of smaller startups are beginning to leverage the wealth of technology and information that is now freely available to make waves within the industry.

As a result, there has been a move toward greater collaboration within the industry, which is being facilitated by the development of sites like Pivot Park.

Located in the heart of the town of Oss in the Netherlands, Pivot Park was established in 2012 to enhance innovation and the development of new medicines, through the provision of state of the art facilities and opportunities for collaboration between companies based at the campus, industry, academics and government.

Unlike most research centres, Pivot Park is not affiliated with any individual academic institution and has the luxury of being able to collaborate with a whole range of scientific partners, not just in the Netherlands, but globally. It’s also perfectly poised to support organisations of all sizes, and even the smallest start up can literally move in and start using the state of art facilities immediately.

Rapid Growth

It’s a model that seems to be working well. In the last six years, the park has seen an employment growth rate of 57%, and now boasts around 550 permanent employees in 56 different companies. The campus is actually one of the fastest growing in terms of employment growth rate in the Netherlands, an achievement which Brigitte Drees, CEO of Pivot Park, puts down to its unique set up.

“It’s unique in the way that we cherish collaboration, the pharmaceutical R&D facilities that are available and the dense community that is based at one site which is the base of the park,” says Drees.

We make these facilities available for anyone who wants to find new starting points for drugs.

The extensive facilities include space for both large corporations and startups, a pilot plant for chemical production, analytical support, a range of fully equipped labs and, at its core, the Pivot Park Screening Centre.

Together these resources can support everything from the discovery, research and development of pharmaceuticals, right through to the production. “The screening centre has technical infrastructure that you would only normally find in large pharma companies,” says Steven van Helden, Chief Technology Officer at Pivot Park Screening Centre. “We make these facilities available for anyone who wants to find new starting points for drugs.”

Ultra-High Throughput Screening Lab

Perhaps the jewel in the crown of the park is the ultra-high throughput screening lab, which has a collection of over 300,000 compounds available for companies to use to accelerate the discovery of new medicines. “We have 27 lab staff at the screening centre, plus robots. We can do all the testing for a company and we also have an open access lab, so companies can come and hire the equipment to use on their own tests,” adds Drees.

The facility is already playing a significant role in the European Union programme for the development of medicines funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative. The European Lead Factory (ELF) – a public-private partnership aiming to boost the delivery of innovative starting points for new drugs– has selected the Screening Centre as their base for screening activities, whilst the Centre for Open Innovation for Lead Discovery (COILED) has also chosen it to be their hub to bring together academic and industry research to discover new drug candidates.

“The first part of the ELF project has taken five years and given us 200,000 new compounds and already two spinout companies that aim to bring these compounds to the clinic soon,” says Drees. ”

Incentivised Collaboration

Perhaps one of the park’s defining characteristics is the fact that established companies and startups aren’t merely occupying neighbouring laboratory spaces at Pivot Park, they are actively incentivized to work together. As part of Pivot Park’s 5 year anniversary financial subsides were available to support companies wishing to collaborate on projects and it would appear that the vast majority of the 56 companies on site are making use of them.

Drees and van Helden are confident that the rapid growth seen at the park will continue, especially considering that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will be moving to Amsterdam, which is just an hour from Oss, at the end of March 2019. “Companies that are not yet in the Netherlands should think about it because the closer you are to EMA the better you understand how they think,” says Drees.

Companies that are not yet in the Netherlands should think about it because the closer you are to EMA the better you understand how they think.

The growth that Drees speaks of will, however, require investment. There are no guarantees when it comes to investment in the pharmaceutical industry, but Drees is keen that venture capitalists and angel investors come to the park themselves to see the developments that are taking place. “The ideas are plenty, we just need to fund them!

By having this centre we can really accelerate drug discovery,” she says. “We are an enthusiastic team with many years of experience in pharma R&D who are also proud of all that is already achieved. We have companies here who are working on a.o.  cancer treatment or rheumatoid arthritis and I am confident that we will have many new drugs and related technologies coming out of this park.”

As the landscape of the life sciences industry continues to change, companies and academics need to find new ways of working together. The model put forward by the team at Pivot Park, could become the new standard to enhance the sharing of knowledge and expertise which are essential to the continued development of new medicines.