Biogen cozies up to MIT with a $5.3M drug discovery pact

Whitehead Institute Director David Page

It began over lunch. George Scangos, CEO of biotech powerhouse Biogen Idec ($BIIB), walked across Cambridge, MA's Kendall Square for a meal with David Page, director of MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, beginning a yearlong courtship process that has resulted in a $5.3 million handshake, the Boston Globe reports, as the two institutions plan to collaborate on early-phase development.

Under the deal, Biogen will fund four or 5 discovery projects led by Whitehead's researchers, focusing on immunology, neurology, developmental biology, genetics and genomics. The three-year partnership is designed to map out the roots of certain diseases and ferret out new compounds with clinical potential, the partners said, pairing the biotech's drug development expertise with the institute's experienced faculty.

And for Whitehead, which depends on federal grants to fund much of its work, Biogen's move lights a new path for biomedical institutions going forward, Page said. As public research funding continues to dry up, industry-academic partnerships offer a mutually beneficial way of advancing science, he said.

"This agreement will enable the launch of research projects at a level that might not attract funding from more traditional sources," Page said in a statement. "It's extraordinary that a biotech partner is helping to pursue this sort of research, and it is truly refreshing to know that leadership at Biogen Idec embraces these values as we do."

Beyond its scientific implications, the partnership and its prandial genesis illustrate just why the hub model is so popular around biotech. Kendall Square alone is home to academic luminaries like MIT and Harvard alongside industry giants including Novartis ($NVS) and Amgen ($AMGN), all shoulder to shoulder in hopes of fostering collaboration and developing promising projects faster than would be possible under the old solipsistic modes of R&D. Similar clusters exist in the Bay Area, Cambridge, U.K., and elsewhere, attracting ambitious biotechs and deal-seeking pharmas with hopes of jump-starting their research programs.

- read the announcement
- check out the Globe's story