Deerfield Management, a life sciences investment management firm, and Johns Hopkins University have formed a collaboration called Bluefield Innovations to support therapeutic research and discovery at the university. Funded by Deerfield, the venture will offer up to $65 million over five years for early-stage research with additional funding for projects with strong commercial potential.
Therapies developed at Bluefield will be licensed to third parties or launched as start-up ventures. Companies spun off from Bluefield may receive funding from Deerfield.
The unusual deal is the second recently for Deerfield. Just last month it formed a similar collaboration worth $50 million with Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard.
Dave Greenwald, director of business development at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, says the new partnership is unique but advantageous for both parties. “We are constantly looking at ways to commercialize research coming out of Johns Hopkins, and Deerfield is looking to access innovation earlier and earlier,” he says.
Greenwald notes that Deerfield funded two startups from Johns Hopkins last year: Blade Therapeutics, an antifibrotic drug development company, and Graybug Vision, an opthalmic drug-delivery firm.
An investment firm teaming with university research is a sign of maturation in the drug discovery “innovation ecosystem,” says Bernard Munos, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute’s FasterCures research advocacy center.
Investor support reduces an academic lab’s risk in developing products, Munos says. And drug companies, having significantly downsized in-house R&D, are coming to realize universities are an excellent source of external innovation. “We are going to see more of this,” he says. “And it’s a good thing.”