Researchers at an Ohio State University institute that seeks to move prospective cancer therapies from the lab to the patient have targeted six projects to focus on this year.
The Drug Development Institute, buoyed by funds from the Pelotonia bicycling tour and the philanthropic Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation, hopes to help scientists bring novel research to clinical trials, and, ultimately, to partnerships with pharmaceutical companies that can propel products to market.
“There’s a lot of complexity involved in getting a product from discovery and through some of the early-stage, pre-clinical work and then ready for development,” said Jeffrey Patrick, director of the institute, which is part of the university’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“In fact, it’s such a challenge, it’s often referred to as the ‘valley of death.’ “
Doug Ulman, president and chief executive of Pelotonia, said the development institute plays a critical role in advancing a strategy of the fundraising group to “accelerate progress in cancer care, including the delivery of new therapies to patients as quickly as possible.”
Pelotonia is supporting the scientists and advisers working on the six core projects with a $1 million donation, he said. “We believe these projects hold great promise for treating, preventing and possibly even curing many types of cancer.”
One of the first successes for the institute was the August announcement of a license agreement for a drug that inhibits the PRMT5 enzyme, which could be associated with several aggressive cancers, benign blood diseases and autoimmune disease.
In recent years, a number of cancer centers such as Ohio State’s have invested substantially in drug development, said Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
Some other agencies, including charitable organizations such as the Leukemia Lymphona Society, have had a similar model, with a “we can do it all” mentality, hoping to move things from the lab to the bedside, Lichtenfeld said.
“A lot of investment has been made in a lot of research. Those research investments are paying off in many ways,” Lichtenfeld said. “The field of cancer therapeutics has advanced so rapidly that it’s difficult to keep track of all the drugs that are coming through the pipeline.”
The odds are overwhelmingly against success — Lichtenfeld said there’s a 1 in 8 to 1 in 10 chance that a drug will be successful — but when it is, it can not only lead to new treatment options but also a massive payday. This can happen through partnerships with pharmaceutical or venture capital companies, among others.
“They want to get something into the public arena to help patients, that’s the driving force, but you can’t ignore the fact that, if they’re successful, there’s a substantial return on investment,” Lichtenfeld said.
Patrick, who took over at the institute in February, said scientists who come up with discoveries may not always know the ins and outs of product development.
The institute helps them navigate what needs to be done, such as considering efficacy, toxicity and side effects or conducting the proper amount of animal testing before introducing products into tests involving humans. Other issues include patent development, regulatory strategy and market research.
To cover its bases, the institute works with a list of groups on campus, including the Technology Commercialization Office and the College of Pharmacy.
Patrick said such institutes represent an innovative approach that Ohio State is able to take because of support from leadership and financial assistance from Pelotonia.
“Ultimately, our common goal here is to end cancer one discovery and one person at a time,” he said. “And if we can contribute to that with some of the discoveries we’ve partnered with or some of the persons on our team … to get some of these deals done, then that is supporting the common goal.”
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