Jay Bradner - Novartis

An academic star takes to Big Pharma

Name: Jay Bradner
Title: President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research

Back in 2010, Jay Bradner, a hematologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, was at work on an early-stage compound that showed promise in treating a form of cancer. The next step, for most academics, is publishing a paper and sitting down with drug companies in hopes of signing a license agreement that generates some cash.

But Bradner and his colleagues took a different route, telling the world about their discovery and offering to share the molecule with anyone--in academia or industry--who might want to tinker with it. The idea, Bradner said, was to borrow the open-source approach to development common among software engineers, figuring the best way to investigate the compound's potential in the largest number of cancers was to get as many people involved as possible.

The moved turned heads around the world and made Bradner, a decorated oncology researcher, a figurehead for the open science movement.

And so it came as some surprise last year when Novartis ($NVS), among the biggest of Big Pharma, disclosed that Bradner would be the next scientist to lead its Institutes for BioMedical Research, a Cambridge, MA, institution that has built its reputation inventing drugs the old fashioned way--without sharing.

Bradner succeeded Novartis veteran Mark Fishman this month, taking charge of the company's more than 6,000 scientists and nearly $10 billion annual research budget.

Novartis' R&D shop has long been the standard-bearer among big-time drugmakers, and Fishman's 13-year tenure saw the company develop innovative medicines for cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and ophthalmics. Over the past few years, NIBR has played a leading role in the high-profile development of treatments that use the body's natural defenses to fight cancer, carrying out cutting-edge work in CAR-T therapies alongside the University of Pennsylvania.

It remains to be seen how much of Bradner's penchant for open-source R&D will survive the transition from academia to industry, but the Harvard Medical School professor is no stranger to entrepreneurialism. Over the past few years, his lab has collaborated with Agios Pharmaceuticals ($AGIO), Syros Pharmaceuticals and Acetylon Pharmaceuticals, among others. And Tensha Therapeutics, one of the companies that borrowed Bradner's open-source molecule, just got bought by Roche ($RHHBY) in a $535 million deal.

In the past, Bradner has outlined how biotech, pharma and academia can comfortably exist in an ecosystem that rewards all stakeholders and, at its best, produce new medicines for patients.

"Drug development is a team sport," Bradner told the Broad Institute in a May interview. "About once a year, our work reaches a point where we become impatient to bring an idea to patients, convinced the molecule or approach could alleviate the burden of cancer. When this happens we need to become ideal collaborators for industry. … Working together with the local biopharmaceutical community has, for me, been a very positive and respectful experience."

Now he's on the other side of the dealmaking table.

-- Damian Garde (email | Twitter)

For more:
Novartis reshuffles its $9B R&D operation to save $1B a year
The Bradner factor: Roche bags a BET inhibitor in $535M Tensha buyout
Novartis' top scientist is stepping down after 13 years, making way for a Harvard luminary

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Jay Bradner - Novartis