Deerfield Management and the University of Illinois at Chicago are joining forces to speed up the path to the clinic—and eventually to market—for new drugs discovered at the university. The pair is setting up a company called West Loop Innovation with up to $65 million in funding from Deerfield.
In addition to the $65 million, which is earmarked for translational research, Deerfield will also provide commercialization know-how to help get treatments from the lab to patients.
"One of our core competencies at UIC is drug discovery," said TJ Augustine, interim vice chancellor for innovation at UIC, in a statement. "We have three major drugs in the marketplace, placing UIC among a very small number of research universities. Our new partnership with Deerfield not only adds significant translational research funding, but also brings critical support for the startup companies that will take UIC's discoveries and turn them into products."
The three drugs are the anti-HIV med Prezista, sold by Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, Merck’s bladder cancer drug Tice BCG and GlaxoSmithKline’s shingles vaccine Shingrix. The university’s Office of Technology Management helps students, faculty and staff license their work out to companies and is managing 281 active licenses, including 34 with startups. Though UIC is by no means lacking scientific expertise, West Loop Innovation would help startups that license UIC’s work get off the ground.
“One of the biggest challenges when starting a new company is how to build a management team that has experience building a new company around a new biotech discovery and all that goes into it,” Augustine told FierceBiotech. This includes raising funds and actually running a company, as opposed to running a lab.
“That’s something we’re trying to focus on more and more in Chicago and build that community here. At times, it can be a struggle. We understand that the Deerfield team has a track record of doing projects like that, so having them on board as a ready-made partner to bring that [expertise] to the table is hugely beneficial,” he said.
A joint committee from Deerfield and UIC will approve the research projects West Loop Innovation will support—it will start considering applications this fall. Projects that get picked up will receive a development plan and resources to get ready for the IND stage. Successful projects can then collect more funding from Deerfield in a step designed to free researchers up from needing to raise more cash to bring their drugs to market, the partners said in the statement.
The news comes one month after Deerfield inked a similar deal with Harvard University; the partners created Lab1636, a company backed by $100 million from Deerfield to accelerate the route to clinic for new drugs discovered at Harvard.