Burnham Cuts Deal With Johnson & Johnson In First Sweeping Big Pharma Partnership

Xconomy San Diego — 

The San Diego-based Burnham Institute for Medical Research has cut its first institution-wide partnership with a Big Pharma company. Burnham has agreed to a multi-year agreement to let Johnson & Johnson’s Pharmaceutical Research and Development unit have access to its highly-efficient screening technologies to help develop new drugs against inflammatory diseases.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Still, I was able to get a basic sense of the scope of the partnership in a phone conversation last night with Bob Zaugg, vice president of business development for the Burnham.

Johnson & Johnson has had an interest in inflammatory diseases for more than a decade. Its single best-selling product is infliximab (Remicade) a drug for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, that generated $3.3 billion in sales in 2007. But that drug is aimed at one target, TNF alpha, found on excess inflammatory proteins. In the quest to find new targets, Burnham has built up one of the three high-throughput drug screening centers that won massive federal support last fall. Burnham received a $98 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in September to strengthen its capability, and J&J is the first pharma company to try to tap that new resource to develop new drugs, Zaugg says. Burnham hopes that other big drugmakers will want to form partnerships to pursue other classes of therapies for different diseases, he says.

“We are not about doing science for science’s sake,” Zaugg says. “Our faculty are keen on seeing their work move forward in development. They want their work to see the light of day.”

Burnham has done partnerships with Big Pharma companies before on an ad hoc basis, allowing individual researchers to pair up with companies that take an interest in commercializing their work. But this is the first time Burnham has struck a deal that applies to all of its 900 employees at three sites in San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Orlando, FL, Zaugg says. The center has about 700 scientific staff, he says.

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