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Scripps Unveils New Drug Development Arm, Signs J&J as First Partner

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about three to four non-exclusive collaborations with drug companies. The pharmaceutical partners will each go through a formal upfront process, laid out by Scripps Advance, to identify their specific goals and interests, Forrest says.

“This vehicle should improve the likelihood of adoption,” Forrest says. Any profits earned by Scripps Advance from the activities or the sale of its affiliated startups would benefit the corporation’s owner, The Scripps Research Institute.

Few other non-profit research centers have founded their own drug discovery corporations, Forrest says. The leading model for Scripps was Cancer Research UK, a London-based charitable organization that funds cancer research. The charity founded a commercial drug development arm, Cancer Research Technology (CRT), also in London.

Scripps expects its own standalone corporation to improve licensing rates for the institute’s platform technologies, such as drug discovery tools, by spinning them out as separate companies affiliated under the Scripps Advance corporate structure.

Forrest says it’s harder to get pharmaceutical companies to support platform technologies than drug candidates, which fit more easily into the divisional “silos” within a drug firm devoted to specific therapeutic areas. Rather than relying on a single drug company division to support a platform technology, one or more drug companies can invest in a Scripps Advance spinout company, he says.

While all these business innovations replicate the traditional financing and mentoring roles of VCs, venture firms aren’t being left out of the new Scripps model. Scripps Advance has already teamed up with the investment firm Atlas Venture to found the Cambridge, MA-based startup Padlock Therapeutics, which plans to develop drugs based on gene regulation findings by a group of Scripps scientists. Traditional VCs can join with drug company venture arms in investment syndicates to finance Scripps’ new companies.

Scripps supports its in-house scientists with toxicology and chemistry facilities, and a high-throughput screening center at its second campus, Scripps Florida in Jupiter, FLA. Scripps Advance now plans to open up opportunities within its entrepreneurial initiative to a network of outside research institutions, startup companies, and entrepreneurs already built up by the existing Scripps business development unit. Any of these outside entities might participate in the deals formed with Scripps Advance’s pharmaceutical partners.

Johnson & Johnson already has a significant presence near Scripps—its subsidiary Janssen Research & Development operates its West Coast Research Center in La Jolla, CA. The J&J Innovation Center has named a broad range of disease areas of interest for the Scripps collaboration, spanning oncology, neurology, immunology, cardiovascular cardiovascular disease, and infectious disease. But Melcher says each category contains specific focus areas, such as Alzheimer’s disease and mood disorders in the neurology space.

It was not only the excellent science at Scripps that attracted the J&J Innovation Center to the new collaboration, Melcher says, but also the institute’s business innovations and the external network it had created.

“We see academic institutions as part of our global R&D network,” Melcher says. “It gives us that reach into the cutting-edge science.”

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