TRANSCENDing a typical partnership

MIT’s Koch Institute collaborates with Ortho-McNeil-Janssen and affiliates in oncology R&D

Kimberely Sirk
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), announced a strategic research partnership with Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. and its affiliates called TRANSCEND, in which the parties will begin to collaborate in multiple areas of oncology research and technology development.

Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development will be the Ortho-McNeil entity involved in this arrangement.

The Koch Institute is one of seven National Cancer Institute-designated basic research centers in the United States. The Koch Institute was launched in October 2007 and is home to approximately 25 MIT faculty members from both the Schools of Engineering and Science and convenes more than 1,000 researchers from across the MIT campus. The institute fosters and funds interdisciplinary collaborations in five key research areas: nanotherapeutics; detection and monitoring; metastasis; mapping drug sensitivity; and resistance pathways and cancer immunology.

TRANSCEND is not an acronym, but a description of the essence of the partnership, say parties on both sides of the deal.

"TRANSCEND symbolizes what our partnership is about," says Kristen Von Seggern, vice president of external innovation for Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development. "The ultimate goal is to benefit patients with cancer. We think we can advance that goal farther this way, rather than by moving ahead alone."

The arrangement will begin with an initial five-year sponsored research effort involving the interdisciplinary faculty, students and staff from the Koch Institute. The teams will begin the collaboration by working in the areas of cancer diagnostics, cancer biology pre-malignancies and genetic models of disease and by studying profiles of the tumor microenvironment.

"We have a keen interest in MIT because of the exceptional biologists and engineering capabilities there," adds Von Seggern. "TRANSCEND will enable exploration of the interface between the two disciplines. That idea is super-appealing to us."

The concept is to have MIT teams of researchers apply for research support though the partnership, which was funded by an initial contribution by Johnson & Johnson. The company did not disclose the amount of that contribution.

It's expected that not only will the approximately 900 researchers from the Koch Institute be eligible to apply for funding, but that other MIT faculty and researchers with complementary research may also be considered for support.

Researchers from disciplines such as biology, chemical engineering, materials science, computer science and electrical engineering may one day participate in TRANSCEND.
A joint scientific steering committee composed of MIT faculty members and Ortho-McNeil Janssen employees will review and select proposals from MIT researchers for funding. Projects will involve interdisciplinary faculty, students and staff to address oncology solutions. In addition, there is the potential for visiting scientists from Ortho-McNeil Janssen to participate in projects within the investigators' laboratories at the Koch Institute. Three steering committee members will be selected from each institution.

Von Seggern says the TRANSCEND team will meet by the end of the summer, and then consider proposals on a quarterly basis.

"Proposals can span one year to five, and we want the collaborators to be really creative," she adds. "This is about scientific exchange, and getting therapies to clinical trials."

The goal of the visiting scientist program is to extend innovation outside the walls of Johnson and Johnson, and outside the capacity of any individual academic research lab.
Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute, says that TRANSCEND is a path-breaking approach to collaborations between universities and big pharma.

"There are no specific cancers pre-specified in the agreement with Johnson & Johnson," Jacks says. "Certainly, though, we could work on lung and breast cancer. Johnson & Johnson is interested in the many different types of cancer that we study here. This arrangement is different than those one would find in a regular cancer collaboration. What's unique is that the Koch Institute will enable collaboration with engineers, not simply biologists. This arrangement is unique, as it will go beyond the research capacity of any individual research lab."

When asked about the definition of success of this partnership, Jacks indicated that the five-year pact has no set milestones; instead, it seeks to establish itself as a pathway to future innovation.

"The phase of the disease we are interested in is the pre-cancerous to cancerous state," he says. "There are no specific benchmarks set for the partnership. We seek successful discoveries that have clinical benchmarks—we won't set benchmarks just for benchmarks sake."
 

Kimberely Sirk

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