Sanford-Burnham, Mayo hunt for drugs against high-priority targets

Two top research organizations have mounted a combined effort to discover new drugs for cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses. Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and Mayo Clinic's alliance marks one example of a wider trend, where academic researchers are playing a bigger role in drug discovery.

Sanford-Burnham, which has a leading library and platform for drug discovery, has been one of the more active research centers in forming tie-ups with collaborators in industry and academia. Pfizer ($PFE), for example, tapped the La Jolla, CA, institute to partner on an early research initiative involving other academics and the company in 2011. Indeed, Sanford-Burnham has a sterling rep in the pharma industry as a competent ally for identifying new drug candidates, and Roche ($RHHBY) poached the institute's top executive John Reed this year to revitalize the Swiss drug giant's pharma research effort as head of R&D. 

With Mayo Clinic researchers serving up disease targets, scientists from Sanford-Burnham's Prebys Center are expected to screen the institute's library for compounds against those targets and do further studies to advance some leads toward the clinic. The deal builds on a pilot phase of collaboration between the two research powerhouses, boosting the number and extent of projects involved in the collaboration. And as Sanford-Burnham's president and interim CEO, Dr. Kristiina Vuori, noted, the joint effort could speed discovery and provide a venue for clinical testing.

"If successful, these compounds will form the basis of completely novel--'first in class'--therapies for devastating diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, and others," Michael Jackson, vice president of drug discovery and development at Sanford-Burnham, said.

Jackson leads a team of researchers, many with past career stops at pharma companies, which uses speedy methods of screening compounds from the institute's library. Part of Sanford-Burnham's Prebys Center, the group is helping to tackle discovery challenges for which drug companies have come to rely on academic counterparts more and more amid heavy cuts to R&D workforces in the industry.

- here's the release

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