Forming Fruitful Industry Partnerships

Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, came to UCSF in August 2009 from Genentech, and made it clear that business was one of her top five priorities. Desmond-Hellmann said that means not only running an efficient operation, but also keeping the door open to partnering with business and industry.

The chancellor’s goals in this area are clearly aligned with work that had already begun at UCSF. In the past two years, UCSF has revamped and streamlined its approach to industry partnerships to help move research more quickly and strategically from the laboratory to clinical trials and patient treatment.

The changes are primarily through the Industry Contracts Division of the UCSF Office of Sponsored Research, but parallel efforts are ongoing at the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which is headquartered on the UCSF Mission Bay campus. And those efforts are echoed in new approaches at the schools of medicine and pharmacy, and at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

“As a leader in biomedical research, UCSF is committed to the translation of research into clinical applications that improve the lives of individuals worldwide,” said Erik Lium, PhD, UCSF assistant vice chancellor for research. “As our mission depends, in part, on our ability to collaborate with industry, we have taken concrete steps to facilitate these collaborations. As a result, even during these tough economic times, we continue to successfully form innovative relationships with industry partners.”

At QB3, industry partnerships drive much of the innovation, with the University looking for ways to stimulate business, and business looking to collaborate with scientists and tap the University’s cutting-edge research, according to an economic impact report.

Regis Kelly

Regis Kelly, director of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences

“There’s always at least one major company coming through here, whether it’s GE Healthcare or Pfizer or Novartis,” says Regis Kelly, a former executive vice chancellor of UCSF and now director of QB3. “There’s a huge crisis in big pharma right now. They need to rush back and look at the early sources of innovation, and everyone comes to us.”

Genentech, a wholly owned member of the pharmaceutical giant Roche Group, has more than 15 research collaborations with UCSF across several therapeutic areas. In the latest, UCSF’s Small Molecule Discovery Center (SMDC), part of the UCSF School of Pharmacy and affiliated with QB3, signed a partnership earlier this year under which Genentech will support the work of several researchers, with both funding and research acumen in neuroscience, and will collaborate with UCSF to identify small molecules.

The teams will work together to develop a drug candidate, based on prior academic research conducted at the SMDC and discoveries at Genentech. If certain development and commercial milestones are met, UCSF could also earn $13 million, plus royalties, on top of the funding Genentech is already providing, according to Kelly.

Pfizer formed a partnership with UCSF in June 2008, in which the pharmaceutical company will pay up to $9.5 million over three years and collaborate to speed the translation of basic research discoveries into diagnostics, drugs and other treatments. The partnership spans many disciplines, several UC campuses and multiple Pfizer research units, and is led on the University side at QB3, Kelly points out.

In another fruitful partnership, UCSF physicians and GE Healthcare researchers evaluated how best to apply magnetic resonance imaging technology to patient care at the UCSF Department of Radiology. The relationship has since expanded and resulted in the formation of the Surbeck Laboratory for Advanced Imaging at Byers Hall on the Mission Bay campus.

Similarly, the UCSF Nikon Imaging Center at QB3 shows how industry partnerships can bring high-end, cutting-edge equipment to the University. In this case, 10 companies led by Nikon Instruments andTechnical Instruments have donated approximately $2.3 million in microscopes and other devices to a joint QB3-UCSF School of Medicine facility for light microscopy.

And a multiyear, collaborative agreement between UCSF and Abbott Diagnostics led to the UCSF Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center – based on the ViroChip work done by UCSF Professors Joseph DeRisi, PhD, and Don Ganem, MD – which focuses on detection and discovery of novel viruses associated with acute and chronic human illnesses. Researchers anticipate further partnerships that will help unlock the viral causes of unexplained acute illnesses such as respiratory infections, gastroenteritis and encephalitis, as well as chronic illnesses such as cancer.