The European Lead Factory is remarkably attractive for SMEs. The consortium consists of 30 partners, of which 10 are SMEs. They perform the screening and help to translate innovative design ideas into industry‐standard compound libraries. ELF is also interacting with a high number of SMEs who have enrolled via the target crowdsourcing route with in total 25 programmes (out of 88 programmes in the portfolio).

Giving a crucial kick-start
Dr Steven van Helden is Chief Technology Officer at the Pivot Park Screening Centre, one of the SME partners. Here, the screening of compounds for the European Lead Factory takes place. Steven knows from personal experience what benefits ELF offers: “ELF really helped us to kick-start the company. For (starting) SMEs it is often difficult to get new clients to work for. They want to know what you have achieved and want proof that you have the capability to execute the project. With ELF we have been able to run a lot of screens, which gave us a strong track record.”

A unique opportunity
Not only the SME consortium partners benefit from ELF. For many SMEs enrolling in ELF is a unique opportunity. It provides access to Pivot Park Screening Centre’s industrial screening capabilities and a unique compound collection, which is important for the discovery of new drugs. Steven: “That is exactly where SMEs, who want to develop a new drug, are struggling with. They often have a good idea, but as a small company they don’t have their own facilities or compound collection to make a step forward. Within ELF, they can run a screen and get access to all these fantastic assets and capabilities, without upfront costs.”

The benefits of having a network and expertise
A huge advantage of the European Lead Factory mentioned by all SMEs is the provision of a large network. Steven: “That is precisely what ELF gave us right from the start: you quickly grow your network. And when you start talking to people, the European Lead Factory is always a good way to start a conversation, because ELF is widely known.”

SMEs also benefit from the knowledge exchange and the access to expertise. For example via the Learnings & Achievements Meetings, but also educational workshops for young researchers and consortium meetings, where there is plenty of opportunity to discuss and ask questions. “They learn a lot from the ELF consortium about drug discovery. For example, what makes your drug discovery programme attractive for further investment”, explains Steven. “It really is a learning experience.”

ELF is a great example that it can work
Steven concludes: “When ELF started, a lot of people were very critical. They didn’t believe that it would work. It was too big, too complicated and too ambitious to setup an industrial European screening facility with so many small partners. After five years, it is clear that ELF is productive and successful. We ran 72 screens, testing almost 30,000,000 samples, which is comparable to the production of a large pharma company in a similar period. This work led to two partnering deals, multiple spin-outs, and investments made in several crowdsourced programmes. ELF is a great example that it can work.”