Thursday, August 20, 2015

Solid Hook-Up: California Stem Cell Agency and Calibr Connection

Creating pathway to clinic
The Calibr approach
Problematic pharma-academic ties
As of today, the California stem cell agency has a $4 million hook into a San Diego research enterprise that also has ties to a glittering array of partners, ranging from Merck to Bristol-Myers Squibb

The connections fit with the state stem cell agency’s new goal of creating a clear pathway from the basic research bench to the use of stem cell cures in clinics for millions of people.

The signal event came routinely and quickly this morning when directors of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, approved a $1.7 million award.
The cash is going to the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr) and its director, Peter Schultz.

The funds will be used for pushing into clinical trials a treatment that would -- for the first time -- modify the progress of osteoarthritis, which afflicts 27 million Americans. The therapy could also be used to treat damaged cartilage in knees and elbows.

CIRM has now invested $10 million in Schultz, a reknown chemist and biotech entrepreneuer. Six million of that went for research that was performed at Scripps. All of the funds involve the proposed arthritis therapy. Including today’s award to Schultz and funds to other researchers, the agency has now handed out $19.5 million to find a therapy for arthritis.

Schultz founded Calibr three years ago with up to $90 million, promised over seven years by Merck. The Big Pharma firm has first refusal rights on treatments developed by Calibr. If Merck passes, then other enterprises can make an offer. Calibr has additional partnerships, including a $28.9 million, five-year relationship with the Gates Foundation.

Peter Schultz, catching a big one
Schultz says “our mission is a little bit arrogant.” In a lengthy piece in March by Bradley Fikes of San Diego Union-Tribune, Schultz said Calibr has “a very broad spectrum of interest and we hope to have a significant impact on a number of diseases."

Fikes wrote,  
"'There are a lot of discoveries being made in life science, and many of these discoveries are made in academic institutions and basic research institutions,’ Schultz said. ‘The process of translating those discoveries into new medicines has become somewhat difficult.’
“These institutions have trouble collaborating with big pharma because of differences in culture and regulatory challenges of for-profit and not-for-profit collaboration.
"'That's left the universities try to do drug discovery themselves,’ Schultz said. ‘The problem there is they don't have the knowledge, experience or even the processes to do drug discovery, which is a lot different than a cottage industry approach to basic research."
Fikes continued,
“Meanwhile, big pharma is becoming more risk-averse, looking for validated drug targets and in-licensing compounds. That makes pharma collaboration with basic research centers even more problematical, Schultz said.
"’We have to come up with other ways to really facilitate and accelerate the translation of new research into new medicines,’ Schultz said. ‘Universities are trying to set up their own drug discovery units. Scripps has done that in Florida, Vanderbilt, we see Cornell, Rockefeller and Sloan-Kettering teaming up to do that. They're building something from scratch, and usually without having the experience of having been there and done that. And in some cases what they wind up doing is hiring a lot of people from pharma industry and recreating a pharma-like process.’"
Calibr has 110 employees, Fikes reported, including 60 postdocs. Its annual operating budget for 50 projects totals $25 million. Calibr is still busy hiring with seven positions open on its Web site as of this afternoon.
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