Frontline Cancer: Academia-Industry partnerships turbocharge cancer medicine
By Scott M. Lippman, M.D.
What happens when you put the nation’s second largest cluster of life science companies in the same town with one of the world’s most amazing groups of academic biomedical research institutions?
You accelerate a certain chemistry, the combinatorial kind that produces a phenomenon known as the academia-industry partnership, or AIP. This supercharged chemistry happens in San Diego and La Jolla, where AIPs fuel the development of novel cancer medicines that help patients get better.
More so than almost any other place on Earth, researchers and entrepreneurs from industry and academia rub shoulders in San Diego and La Jolla. They commingle in events that foster AIPs, like the annual UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center Industry/Academia Translational Oncology Symposium. They get together through two non-profit organizations, BIOCOM and CONNECT, that strongly facilitate AIPs via services to the region’s numerous biotechnology companies.
This proximity matters. It’s hard to beat creative interactions stemming from spontaneous and short-notice encounters and meetings, from seeing raw data and experiments in person in the lab, and from a host of other immediate advantages that Skype, e-mail and distance can’t offer.
AIPs work, and work fast. For example, in 2008 Catriona Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D., and academic colleagues in La Jolla reported that a JAK2 mutation in cancer stem cells drives the hematologic cancer myelofibrosis (MF). MF is debilitating and life-threatening, with abnormal blood-cell production and scarring in the bone marrow.
Jamieson linked up with another academic scientist, David Cheresh, Ph.D., who founded the local company TargeGen, which developed a JAK2-inhibiting drug. They formed an AIP. Only eight months after the JAK2‒stem cell discovery in 2008, this AIP began a clinical trial of the JAK2 inhibitor here and elsewhere. The early-phase trial was quite successful, helping patients right away, and a harbinger of things to come in this emerging era of targeted therapy. It caught the eye of the large pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis, which acquired TargeGen in June 2010.
More trials were then launched at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and elsewhere, and last month, Sanofi announced that the drug’s large, multi-national Food and Drug Administration-registration trial, called JAKARTA, had exceeded its expected benefit. If all goes well, it’s expected the FDA will approve the drug for cancer treatments in 2014.
This case of AIP-turbocharged drug development went from 0 to 60 in eight months and from 0 to the finish line in just five years. That’s lightning fast compared with typical cancer drug development, which often takes from 10 to 15 or more years to get an idea to market. Drug development moves fast in La Jolla because it’s easier to generate the AIPs that propel good science and medicine.
Inspired by success stories like JAK2 targeting in MF, researchers from academia and industry are partnering to build and occupy the Center for Novel Therapeutics (CNT; originally announced as the Center for Innovative Therapeutics). The CNT will incubate scientific discovery and then foster AIPs that speed development of clinical testing and therapeutics.
The 110,000-square-foot CNT will rise in the UCSD Science Research Park, just east of the Moores Cancer Center. Teams of potential CNT developers, architects, contractors and consultants attended a mandatory Qualifiers Meeting in May. By June 10, the teams must submit their qualifications to develop the CNT, which is slated to open in July 2016.
The CNT will house academia and industry tenants in wet and dry laboratories, including space for bioengineering and medicinal chemistry. It will house people who know how to develop clinical protocols, as well as core facilities to support joint research.
Several large labs from Moores will become CNT tenants. The scientific leaders of these labs have all been involved in AIPs. They believe in the CNT’s ability to facilitate and hasten AIPs that will help them get their discoveries into therapeutics that help patients as quickly as possible.
It all comes together nicely – all of the pieces needed to create and develop life-saving cancer therapeutics and technology under one roof in the CNT. In turn, the CNT is near clinical doctors and researchers at the NCI-designated comprehensive Moores Cancer Center (just across the street) and at UCSD Thornton Hospital and the Hospital for Cancer Care (walking distance) within the Jacobs Medical Center (scheduled to open in 2016). Nearby as well are Moores’ large bank of clinical tissue specimens and the UCSD Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine.
Whether within the same building (CNT), campus (UCSD), community (La Jolla) or city (San Diego), close proximity spurs invention, inspiration and innovation — in this case, in the form of AIPs. These partnerships are at the heart of accelerated drug development that makes life better in our community, the nation and the world.
—Scott M. Lippman, MD, is Director of UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. His column on medical advances from the front lines of cancer research and care appears in the La Jolla Light the fourth Thursday of each month. You can reach Dr. Lippman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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