Biotech vet joins R&D troika to take compounds from campus to clinic

Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute Director Michael Foley

Well-traveled biotech luminary Michael Foley has agreed to head up a new translational research effort that unites minds at Weill Cornell Medical College, the Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with the mission of turning exciting lab work into promising drug candidates.

With $20 million in philanthropic gifts paving the way, the research outfits have christened their collaboration the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, or Tri-I TDI, and now Foley's on board to lend the sum of his 25 years of experience straddling industry and academia to the venture.

Tri-I opened its doors in October and has already inked a partnership with Takeda to develop small-molecule therapies for some undisclosed targets. Under Foley and his team's plan, that'll hardly be its last tie-up, and Tri-I figures it can leverage its founders' expertise across three campuses to advance preclinical compounds, starting with small molecules and expanding into biologics and molecular imaging agents.

Foley's résumé includes stints at heavyweights GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), and he co-founded Infinity Pharmaceuticals ($INFI), 2011 Fierce 15 winner Forma Therapeutics and CombinatoRx (which was redubbed Zalicus). He most recently helmed the therapeutics department of MIT and Harvard's Broad Institute, and Tri-I's founders said his time spent split between labs and boardrooms made him ideal to lead a translational push.

"I am thrilled to be part of this pioneering approach to drug discovery," Foley said in a statement. "The structure of the Tri-I TDI has enormous potential to not only bridge the gap between academia and the pharmaceutical industry, but to take burgeoning ideas and rapidly adapt them into real, tangible treatments that can benefit patients now."

Tri-I's splashy hire comes just days after Sloan-Kettering and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center teamed up to launch Juno Therapeutics, a biotech with $120 million in Series A cash and an approach to cancer immunotherapy that has researchers reaching for hyperbole.

- read the announcement