Scripps launches new drug discovery initiative

Aim is to translate early-stage biomedical research into clinical candidates

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LA JOLLA, Calif.—The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has launched a new initiative designed to translate early-stage biomedical research projects into clinical development candidates. The initiative, called Scripps Advance, will foster collaboration among biopharmas, academic labs and other research institutions seeking to develop and commercialize potential treatments. Scripps Advance’s first major partner in this effort is the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center in California.
Scripps Advance comes at a time when research institutions and biopharma firms are seeking to develop alternative means of support for R&D in the face of declining venture capital funding for startups and reduced in-house R&D at large pharmaceutical companies. “We understand the lack of venture capital funding, and we want to reach into the startup community and help to fill that void,” Thorsten Melcher of New Ventures and Partnerships at the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center in California tells DDNews. “For us, this collaboration is about finding opportunities to support early-stage research by offering resources and capital as well as our expertise in generating drugs.”
Scott Forrest, TSRI’s vice president of business development, says the initiative is designed to combine the innovation found in the academic research community with the expertise, infrastructure and capital of the private sector. “Scripps Advance will look both inside and outside of TSRI for projects to take forward, and it will work with pharma companies to select and fund those projects,” he explains. “Johnson & Johnson Innovation is committed to innovative science, which only raises our level of excitement about Advance.”
Johnson & Johnson has partnered with TSRI on specific projects in the past, most notably on infectious disease research, but Scripps Advance provides a framework for much more extensive collaboration, says Melcher. “This is a truly unique collaboration, because it’s much broader than most partnerships between research institutes and private companies and it is not centered on a single project.” Another key difference from many such partnerships, notes Melcher, is Scripps Advance’s commitment to providing thorough scientific review of projects before committing financing and other resources. 
Johnson & Johnson Innovation has opened regional centers in California, Boston, London and China as part of its efforts to foster collaboration with the entrepreneurial and research communities. The centers seek to find new ways to accelerate scientific breakthroughs by employing collaborative and flexible deal structures and investing in a wide variety of research programs that align with its core areas of specialization. Scripps Advance will provide matchmaking between the California Innovation Center and emerging life-science companies, researchers conducting translational research and entrepreneurs that are part of Scripps Advance’s network.
“Scripps Advance is searching for and screening promising research programs that line up with our specific areas of interest—for instance, oncology, immunology, infectious diseases and neuroscience,” says Melcher. “If we want to pursue the opportunities they present to us, there are multiple avenues through which we could do this, including new company creations, R&D collaboration or licensing applications. Whatever approach we take, we want the science to drive the business arrangement.”
Scripps Advance has already facilitated the launch of one company, Padlock Therapeutics, which focuses on discovering autoimmune therapeutics that target protein arginine deiminases, an emerging class of epigenetic modulators. Padlock was created through a partnership between Scripps Advance and Atlas Ventures, an early-stage investment firm. The technology Padlock uses was developed in the laboratories of TSRI investigators Paul Thompson and Kerri Mowen in collaboration with the high-throughput screening facility at Scripps’ Florida campus.
“The expertise and technical breadth found at our Florida site has already had a significant impact on putting drug candidates into the clinic,” according to Todd Huffman, TSRI’s director of drug discovery partnerships. “We look forward to broadening our footprint in this area through collaborations with Johnson & Johnson Innovation and other companies.”
Melcher tells DDNews that Scripps Advance and Johnson & Johnson Innovation are currently engaged in discussions about several potential new projects to pursue.

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