Bringing New Treatments to Patients Faster

What is a venture capitalist doing at a scientific conference? Helping academic scientists turn discoveries into new drug development.

The 2013 Industry Forum gave researchers concrete guidance on how to work with their counterparts at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to bring new treatments to people with lupus as quickly as possible. A multidisciplinary panel including academic and industry researchers, a patent attorney, and venture capitalist looked at the many and varied opportunities to speed up the process.

Patent lawyer John P. White from the law firm Cooper & Dunham LLP advised researchers on the importance of patents and how to apply for them to protect their discoveries from competitors.  He highlighted new changes in US patent law that mean the right to a patent for an invention lies with the first person to file the patent application. This change means investigators risk not being able to protect their intellectual property if they talk publicly about inventions before filing.

Jeff Browning, PhD related his experience working in both academia and industry, currently at Boston University School of Medicine after nearly 20 years at the biotechnology firm Biogen Idec. His talk focused on what industry looks for in funding academic research: 1) repurposing existing drugs; 2) pathways that can be easily targeted in small subsets of patients; 3) strong science; 4) compelling data that pharma can base small clinical trials on.

Entrepreneur and CEO of biotechnology company ImmuNext, David DeLucia talked about how to set up and grow a company that can move a discovery from the lab to drug development and on to treat patients. He used his experience with several start-up companies to illustrate how companies founded on the discoveries of academic scientists can tap into government funding and partnerships with large pharma to achieve commercial success and to bring new drugs to patients.

There are many more opportunities for industry funding of research compared to five years ago, according to Pfizer’s head of the Medicines Development Group Therapy Area for Inflammation and Immunology, Saeed Fatenejad, MD. He encouraged scientists to apply to his company and others for funding to pursue investigator-initiated projects or contract research for pharma.  He noted that pharma companies have two primary needs that academic researchers can help meet: expertise and resources that include access to patients and patient samples.

Despite the economic downturn, the biotechnology industry is performing well and attracting venture investment. David Grayzel, MD, Managing Director of Atlas Venture Development Corp talked about the potential for academic researchers who have formed a biotechnology company to secure venture funding to progress drug development. He emphasized the importance of having robust, replicated data and finding funding partners who understand your field and stage of development. Also, timing is critical with venture funds making most investments in the first four years of their seven-ten year investment cycle.