Salk Institute signs R&D pact with sanofi-aventis

Collaborative agreement supports cutting-edge research, sets stage for rapid advances

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LA JOLLA, Calif.—The Salk Institute has reached a multiyear agreement with French drugmaker sanofi-aventis, creating a joint program that supports cutting-edge research and promotes an exchange of discoveries focused on scientific advances and therapeutic applications.

Under terms of the agreement, for a period of up to five years, the sanofi-aventis Regenerative Medicine Program (SARP) will sponsor institute-wide discovery grants in promising research areas that address the organizations' mutual interests. SARP provides for long-term, multiple-participant collaborations between Salk and sanofi-aventis scientists—allowing both groups to benefit from each other's specific areas of expertise and potentially develop further partnerships. SARP will also provide unrestricted support for the institute's stem cell core facility.

"This is a collaborative relationship without restrictive preconditions between two leading organizations," William R. Brody, president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, said in a statement. "Our scientists will continue to freely explore cutting-edge research and publish their work, with the added benefit of advancing the science through this unique association that provides access to extensive resources at sanofi-aventis."

Salk scientists will have an opportunity to apply for five early-stage research grants under the collaboration. In exchange for financial support, sanofi-aventis will have a limited-time first option to take successful results to the next level, both for further experimentation as well as for commercial applications.

The collaboration will open myriad opportunities for research between the organizations. Under the agreement, Salk will also gain access to "extensive resources" at sanofi-aventis, which includes a large-scale facility in Tucson, Ariz., for screening compounds with potential to be new drugs.

According to Dr. David A. Odelson, senior licensing executive in the Salk Institute's Office of Technology Management and Development, Salk's culture of openness and collaborative research is an ideal fit with sanofi-aventis' philosophy.

"This was a major factor for the development of our alliance," he says.

"Salk's culture of openness and collaborative research is an ideal fit with sanofi-aventis' philosophy," adds Dr. Remi Brouard, vice president of external innovation at sanofi-aventis. "I'm confident this new relationship will bring forth discoveries that will positively serve our mission."

SARP is an innovative win-win model for U.S. researchers and the pharmaceutical industry, according to Marsha Chandler, executive vice president at the Salk Institute.

"The arrangement benefits Salk scientists through direct financial support of their research and access to an array of resources that facilitate commercialization of discoveries," says Chandler. "It benefits sanofi-aventis through access to top-quality basic science and cross-fertilization in complementary areas like stem cell research."

SARP will provide "unrestricted support for the institute's stem cell core facility." About a third of Salk's 57 laboratories are involved in stem cell research. The institute's stem cell facility was created as a separate laboratory supported by private funding during the years the Bush Administration had placed restrictions on federal stem cell funding.

While President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order ushering in changes in stem cell research regulations, that move didn't have any real impact on the alliance between the Salk Institute and sanofi-aventis, Odelson says.

"The discussions of the alliance were initiated before President Obama's executive order," he says. "Salk's stem cell facility was of interest as it offered a way to support a unique, well-managed facility that offers multiple investigators the opportunity for close collaborations. Within our institute, over 30 percent of the laboratories utilize this facility."

According to Odelson, success of the alliance will be judged by a number of factors.

"At the broadest level, the alliance will be judged on the diversity and the types of discoveries that are made and their translation to human health," he says. "At the personal level, the alliance will be judged on the types of research and collaborative relationships that are built between the organizations."

The deal marks the latest agreement between Salk and a pharmaceutical company. Last year, Salk partnered with another French pharmaceutical company, Ipsen, in a deal worth $10 million over five years.

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