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Biogen part of effort to speed drug development

TRENTON, N.J. — Cambridge-based Biogen Idec is among the 10 drug makers partnering with the National Institutes of Health and several foundations to start an unusual project to bring new medicines — particularly for complex and expensive chronic diseases — to patients more quickly and for less money.

The Accelerating Medicines Partnership aims to do that by sharing expertise and research findings and by focusing on the earliest part of drug discovery — learning more about how a disease begins and progresses — to find a vulnerable spot to attack it.

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The partnership, unveiled Tuesday, will seek to identify biological targets present in a disease, such as abnormal genes or particular proteins. This initial phase of drug research is rarely competitive, unlike the race to test experimental drugs in patients and beat competing companies to market, which often results in billions of extra dollars from drug sales.

The public-private partnership will work to develop diagnostic tests and therapies focused on such biologic targets, but more quickly and at a lower cost. That could help slow the unsustainable rise in prices for new drugs, which often cost tens of thousands of dollars for each patient’s treatment. At the same time, even the biggest pharmaceutical companies are pruning the research areas in which they work to try to get more from their research dollars.

The partnership will start with three- to five-year pilot projects on Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and the autoimmune disorders rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

‘‘Currently, we are investing a great deal of money and time in avenues with high failure rates, while patients and their families wait,’’ the NIH’s director, Dr. Francis S. Collins, said in a statement.

Industry sources say about 95 percent of experimental drugs fail, yet it takes a couple of decades and more than $1 billion to get a new drug on the market. That limits the number of medicines drug makers can try to develop and means patients without good options wait longer for better treatments — or die prematurely.

Over the past decade, it’s become common for drug makers to partner with each other on developing a particular drug to split the enormous cost and the risk of failure.

The new collaboration involves more players from different fields, though, particularly the prestigious NIH, which funds much of the basic science research that eventually results in new medicines and diagnostic tests. Other partners include Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc., Merck & Co., the American Diabetes Association, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

The partnership has a $230 million budget for the first five years, with the NIH paying just over half of that and the rest coming from industry.

“Through this partnership, we expect to identify new strategies for attacking some of the most challenging and costly diseases facing society, such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said Douglas E. Williams, Biogen Idec’s executive vice president of research and development. “It’s an exciting opportunity for us to collaborate across government, patient advocacy, and industry to better understand the biology of disease and more effectively test our treatment hypotheses, helping us to get better medicines to patients faster.”

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