UPDATED: Merck offers $90M to bankroll new drug discovery institute

Underscoring Big Pharma's growing love for collaborating with the scientific community, Merck ($MRK) is committing up to $90 million to fund the development of a new nonprofit institute in San Diego devoted to working with academic investigators on drug discovery projects. The goal of the California Institute for Biomedical Research--dubbed Calibr--will be bringing projects up to a stage where commercial partners can pick up development, with Merck holding on to options on any proteins and small molecules it likes for its own pipeline.

The new institute will be headed by Scripps' Peter Schultz, with a scientific board headed by Harvard's Christopher T. Walsh and a board of directors chaired by 5AM Ventures' John D. Diekman. Merck's $90 million will be provided over the next 7 years. Shultz says he'll hire a staff of 150 to handle the research work.

"Calibr represents a new paradigm for early-stage translational research," said Schultz. "By leveraging the drug discovery expertise and resources of Calibr, academic researchers will have the opportunity to maximize the potential therapeutic value of their research."

"Effective translation of basic biomedical research is essential to advancing the next generation of novel therapies," said Merck research chief Peter S. Kim, Ph.D., who will be a member of Calibr's scientific advisory board. "Calibr will provide an important venue where basic research and drug discovery scientists may leverage each others' strengths in the fight against disease."

In its release Merck noted that Calibr will be located near a major drug discovery hub, bordering The Scripps Research Institute, Salk Institute, UC San Diego and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. And its researchers will be promised the "latest high through-put screening and imaging, medicinal and protein chemistry and preclinical sciences capabilities."

- here's the press release