Crossing the 'Valley of Death'

The Wistar Institute and the Moulder Center join forces to accelerate drug development

Ashley Abraham
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PHILADELPHIA—While harsh economic conditions continue toforce large pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms to focus on the bottomline and scale back research and development budgets, researchers at the WistarInstitute and the Moulder Center for Drug Discovery Research are aggressivelypursuing high-risk, high-reward drug development programs. 
Wistar, an independent research institution, and the MoulderCenter, an academic research center of Temple University, recently formed analliance aimed at interrogating discoveries that have the potential for drugdevelopment.
"People talk about the valley of death, especially in hardeconomic times. Large drugs companies and biotechs are risk-adverse; they needto look at the bottom line, so interesting discoveries never get pursued. Thisis the vacuum we are trying to fill," says Dr. Dario Altieri, chief scientificofficer and director of Wistar's Cancer Center.
The research conducted at Wistar is focused on new targetidentification and drug discovery for the institute's main research areas ofcancer and immunology. Its research is aided by the advanced molecularscreening facilities housed by the University of Sciences in Philadelphia,which partnered with Wistar in 2010. Aided by USP facilities and a large libraryof assays, researchers at Wistar have been highly successful in novel drugtarget identification. 
The Moulder Center's medicinal chemists and pharmacologistswill focus on "taking those targets discovered by Wistar scientists anddeveloping innovative lead compounds which can impact those targets," saysMagid Abou-Gharbia, director of the Moulder Center. "We are going to put in ourman power and expertise and align it with the expertise of the structuralbiologists at Wistar to move the collaboration forward. It is a fullyintegrated collaboration that has all skills and abilities to discover newmolecules." 
The Moulder Center's primary responsibility is to address anovel compound's pharmaceutical properties. Researchers will focus on how acompound will be ingested, metabolized and excreted by the body in order tomake it available for preclinical trials in animal models.
Several research projects have already been selected forfurther investigation, including inhibitors that target telomerase, a proteinessential in cancer growth and the natural aging process, and Epstein-Barr, avirus responsible for numerous diseases including forms of head and neckcancer. Already underway is a line of research that focuses on inhibiting aclass of molecular targets implicated in cancer.
The terms of the collaborators' agreement are exceedinglysimple. Funding is provided solely from the research centers, with all costssplit equally between them.
Emphasizing the trust and commitment between Wistar and theMoulder Center, Altieri says, "We will worry about the lawyers and intellectualproperty and royalties later." The objectives of the alliance are unimpeded bylengthy legal discussions. According to Altieri, "This is really aninter-institutional collaboration that is based on mutual commitment. There isno money transferred, no complex legal agreements. Our agreement simplyformalizes and outlines our commitment to work together, but it's not a moneyissue. It's really an academic collaboration in its purest form."

Ashley Abraham

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