In a bid to create more productive partnerships with industry, Scripps Research Institute has launched Scripps Advance, a vehicle for turning promising projects from inside and outside Scripps’s labs into drug candidates. Scripps Advance will work with major drug firms to select, develop, and fund research projects.
Johnson & Johnson is the first big company to sign on to the initiative, and Scripps is seeking up to three additional big pharma partners.
Scripps Advance and its partners will jointly nominate projects and then determine how to structure a company to develop them. One company has been formed already with partner Atlas Venture. Padlock Therapeutics, which will deploy technology from Scripps researchers Paul Thompson and Kerry Mowen, is developing drugs that target a class of epigenetic modulators called protein arginine deiminases.
Scripps Advance departs from Scripps’s traditional partnering model. In the past, the institute established consecutive five-year pacts with individual drug companies, most recently Pfizer, which had the right to license any technology coming out of its labs in exchange for a fee that could go as high as $125 million.
In those earlier deals, “pharma had a unique window into the biotech scene” and access to interesting new technology, says Scott Forrest, Scripps’s vice president of business development. But in today’s resource-constrained environment, where companies are desperate to find drugs to fill their anemic pipelines, that blue-sky approach to research doesn’t work.
Scripps also thinks the new model will result in more fruitful partnerships. “If you look at the track record of clinical candidates generated by those deals, it’s not as strong as it could have been,” Forrest concedes.
Scripps Advance represents a new approach being taken by an academic institution to help shore up early-stage drug research. “There is a shortage in the U.S. for relatively early-stage capital,” says G. Steven Burrill, CEO of the life sciences investment firm Burrill & Co. He notes that some academic institutions are pursuing seed capital funds or other novel forms of partnership with industry.