By Paula Burkes
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
In hopes of slashing the time to bring new drugs to market, one pharmacology company in Boston holds regular office hours for research scientists, much like college professors keep office hours for their students.
“Boston area scientists don’t know how to talk pharma, and this is one way to lift the lid on that black box,” said Imran Nasrullah, of Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). “We ask scientists to give us a seven- to 10-page executive summary and sit down one-on-one with them, in an opportunity for them to have a BI incubator and for us to see what’s coming.”
Nasrullah’s comments came last week at the BioVenture Forum hosted by Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. He moderated a panel composed of human geneticist Janna Hutz, of Eisai Inc. north of Boston; Pfizer geneticist Hakan Sakul, of San Diego; biophysicist Anil Naboodiripad, of Dr. Reddy’s Labs of Hyderabad, India; and Katherine Widdowson, of British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
Hutz said her company is collaborating with scientists in many academic institutions, including OMRF lupus researchers Judith James and others.
“They have a pretty big bench of the deepest detailed data, so it doesn’t make sense to go anywhere else,” Hutz said. “You can’t just read a paper and get that kind of data, such as responses, flares, how long they’ve had the disease, or age of onset.”
Collaborating scientists, Hutz said, retain ownership of their intellectual property, down to the smallest molecule. “All we ask is right of first refusal,” she said.
Pfizer has similar collaborations, especially with scientists researching a specific kind of lung cancer for which there was no diagnostic test on the market, Sakul said.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said, “and is a true partnership, not like vendors.”
But most of the time, Pfizer doesn’t work with academia, he said. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration has many limitations, which academic facilities often can’t meet.
Seventy-five percent of the drug research conducted by Reddy’s Labs is focused on repurposing existing compounds with new indications to solve problems, Naboodiripad said. He said the company invests with an option to license, and three programs have emerged, including collaboration with a Cambridge, Mass., lab on a molecule repositioned to treat migraines.
“We’re a smaller company, so we can make decisions quickly,” he said. Patents and strong publication records are extremely important, he said.
OMRF Vice President of Research Rodger McEver said his sense is new drugs are being commercialized faster.
“Large pharmaceutical companies have realized that their own internal research efforts often lack the innovation needed to identify promising drug leads, hence the attempts to interface more productively with academic investigators that are doing the innovation,” McEver said. “The best pharma companies may improve as they test which approaches work best. It won’t be easy. Innovative startup companies will likely still be needed to bridge the gap from basic discovery to proof-of-principle effectiveness to attract the attention of risk-adverse big pharma companies.”
McEver recently sold Oklahoma City-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals Corp., a biotechnology company he co-founded, and its Se1G1 antibody, which he discovered, for the reduction of pain associated with sickle cell disease, to Switzerland-based Novartis for up to $665 million.
McEver’s journey began about 30 years ago. He filed his first patent application in 1989. The University of Oklahoma licensed this and other patents to two biotech companies. However, McEver later took back the technology for lack of diligence, which prompted him to found Selexys in 2002.