Universities seek to boost industry partnerships
When Matthew Shair discovered a protein involved in causing blood cancer — and a small molecule that might disrupt that protein — he saw the makings of a new drug. Facing years of costly work to prove its worth, Shair, a chemist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, did not seek funding from the usual sources, pharmaceutical companies and venture-capital firms. Instead, in 2012, he turned to a Harvard programme that supports preclinical research. It provided him with US$250,000 for preliminary studies in mice and human cells, to determine whether his drug justified under-going clinical trials.
“It gave us the freedom to do the experiments the way we wanted to do them, rather than the way a company might think we should do them,” he says. His experience may soon become more commonplace. Faced with the increasing reluctance of drug and venture-capital firms to fund early development work, academic institutions worldwide are seeking ways to support research that can transform a promising discovery into a marketable therapy (see ‘Capital crunch’).
Funding for early drug-development research has increased over the past year. In April 2013, a $50-million donation quintupled the size of Harvard’s preclinical programme, which aims to turn a profit and invest that in more grants. And the University of Oxford, UK, last month launched a £1.25-million (US$2 million) development fund that allows private investors to support the commercialization of discoveries through its business-development unit, Isis Innovation.
Click here to read more from this May 7, 2014 Nature article by Erika Check Hayden.