Xconomist of the Week: John Reed on Sanford-Burnham’s Drug Pipeline

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going to translate them into drugs. But we had some cool targets in a hot field at the time, apoptosis was the fastest growing area of medical research for a period, and you could get venture capitalists to give you money and off you went. Back in those days, too, you could IPO your company with positive results from a Phase I trial. So it was a whole different era.

Then we saw things shift to this investor sensitivity around risk. So to get your project through to commercialization you were going to have to go further downstream.

So we realized that we weren’t going to be able to rely on a company to generate a prototype lead. We were going to have to do it ourselves. So we launched what we called the chemical biology initiative, which was sort of our code for drug discovery. It was done at a time, frankly, when people didn’t think we could do drug discovery in an academic environment. So we called it chemical biology and actually our center is called the “Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics.” But it’s effectively a drug discovery center.

The key there was not to rely on academics to do this, but to recruit people from pharma and biotech who really knew something about drug discovery, and to make them part of this blended workforce that we have here that combines discovery science by academics with core competencies in drug discovery and early stage drug development.

X: When did that transition occur?

It started about 10 years ago. We started to build capabilities like high-throughput screening, and bringing in professionals to help us. We were able to recruit a fabulous leader for that with Michael Jackson. He’s a name to remember. He ran … Next Page »

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