University Hospitals launches drug discovery/commercialization enterprise

Ladies and gentlemen, the world now has its latest drug discovery initiative--the Harrington Project for Discovery & Development. Plans call for $250 million in backing to fuel early-stage research on one side, and a muscular for-profit arm on the other to carry those findings through the drug development process.

The fledgling Cleveland institute will include the non-profit University Hospitals Harrington Discovery Institute, and an as-yet unnamed for-profit company set to develop drugs and therapeutics. (Watch out, Cleveland Clinic.) They'll focus on areas including cancer, heart disease, neuroscience and inflammation.

Backed by a newly announced $50 million investment from Ohio's Harrington family (once behind medical supply company Edgepark Medical), Cleveland's University Hospitals committed another $100 million to the project, with $100 million to be raised by the drug development portion of the enterprise.

Our FierceBiotechResearch readers are probably most interested in the research portion of this deal--the UH Harrington Discovery Institute. Its location is key here, placed at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland's University Circle area in order to promote collaboration between doctors and scientists across the country. And the research side is designed to fuel the drug development side, and vice versa. Every two years an advisory panel will give 10 researchers with the institute "significant funding" toward its disease areas of focus, according to the deal announcement. The idea is that the for-profit side can help advance the discoveries through development, raising money and additional capital as needed, advised by networks of scientists and "commercial advisory boards."

Blending genuine academic research with a business arm set to raise money to handle development costs makes sense in some ways, with the decline of venture investment and a lack of funding for early-stage research that often drops into the ether without funding to move it forward. But we wonder what the long-term effects will be of blending a for-profit discovery arm so closely with a non-profit research arm.

UH's Jonathan Stamler, director of the hospital's Institute for Transformative Molecular Medicine, will direct the Discovery Institute. Here's hoping as well that the still-recovering economy doesn't place any obstacles in the way of plans to raise that additional $100 million for the effort. In a statement announcing the project's launch, Stamler said the new model would enable "an accelerated, focused discovery process that will benefit society at large," thanks to a discovery and development process that's largely reworked to boost efficiency and development speed.

- here's the release
- check out The Plain Dealer's coverage