Academic-industry collaborations are on the rise worldwide (Boccanfuso, 2010) owing to their potential to synergise the development of new medical treatments. Academic research has an emphasis on discovery, whereas industry excels at product development; the two combined can traverse the drug-development pipeline from start to finish. An example of such an alliance is the collaboration between the Belfer Institute of Applied Cancer Science (Belfer Institute) at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston and the pharmaceutical company sanofi-aventis (announced September 23, 2010). The goals of the collaboration are to discover and develop a new generation of targeted cancer therapeutics.

The Belfer Institute was previously known as the Belfer Center for Cancer Genomics, established by Lynda Chin, MD, and Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD, in 1999 as a site for the high-throughput genomic analyses of human and mouse tumours. The current focus of the Belfer Institute is to translate key insights obtained through basic studies of cancer genomes and biology to identify new therapeutic targets and develop agents against them. The Belfer Institute takes a unique approach towards this aim: a single goal-oriented team integrates the strongest elements of basic academic research with industrial drug-discovery strategies. Ron DePinho, MD, the current Director of the Belfer Institute, is the driving force behind this innovative organisational approach. Other key members of the multidisciplinary team are Kenneth Anderson, MD, and James DiCaprio, MD, who provide clinical and translational oversight to ongoing projects, and Giulio Draetta, MD, PhD, and Pam Carroll, PhD, who provide expertise in pharmaceutical R&D. Work at the Belfer Institute has led to FDA approval of six regimens for the treatment of multiple myeloma. In addition, the institute initiated a collaboration in 2007 with Merck Pharmaceuticals, with whom it now has three ongoing drug-discovery projects.

Similar to its alliance with Merck, the new collaboration with sanofi-aventis harnesses the most effective aspects of academia and industry to facilitate cancer drug discovery and development. In a press release announcing the news, Dr DePinho said, “By combining our expertise in cancer genetics and translational medicine with sanofi-aventis’ excellent drug discovery and development track record, this alliance has great potential to change the practice of cancer medicine”.

Under the terms of the agreement, the DFCI will receive US$33 million in upfront and research funding for at least 3 years. The DFCI will also be entitled to preclinical, clinical and commercial milestone payments and royalties on sales of commercial products. Benefits are expected for both partners. Sanofi-aventis will obtain exclusive access to certain components of a transformative cancer target identification and validation platform originally developed in the laboratory of Dr Chin, currently the Belfer Institute’s Scientific Director.

The Belfer-sanofi alliance represents one of the largest industry-academia alliances established to date, and could promote the development of a new generation of anti-cancer agents.


Why university-industry partnerships matter
Sci Transl Med
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