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UC Berkeley in alliance with Novartis to find treatments for ‘undruggable’ illnesses

By David Schwartz
Published: October 3rd, 2017

Swiss pharma company Novartis has entered an alliance with University of California Berkeley in a bid to accelerate its hunt for new medicines.

The two are launching the Novartis-Berkeley Center for Proteomics and Chemistry Technologies. Financial details were not disclosed, but a statement announcing the deal said it’s a multi-year commitment that will attempt to discover treatments for “undruggable illnesses” like certain cancers that have eluded effective therapies.

Novartis is betting that Berkeley scientists — including Daniel Nomura, the professor who runs the lab — will speed its search for effective drugs targeting hard-to-treat diseases.

 “I do believe this chemistry provides a shortcut to really difficult targets,” said Jay Bradner, who moved from Harvard University last year to lead the Cambridge, MA-based Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. “I expect within three years we will have identified suitable candidates for definitive drug development.”

The company has an enviable record of success with academic partnerships, including with with Oregon Health & Science University researchers on Gleevec, the blood cancer drug that became Novartis’s top seller 20 years ago. Most recently, Novartis won FDA approval for Kymriah, a first-of-its-kind gene-modifying immunotherapy for leukemia developed at the University of Pennsylvania.

With Nomura’s lab, Novartis gets critical help in finding elusive hotspots on the surfaces of proteins, where drugs can latch on and disrupt their role in fueling disease. And for Nomura’s lab, Novartis brings a welcome infusion of resources.

 “Novartis is opening up their internal resources to us … enabling us to do things on a scale we couldn’t accomplish in an academic setting,” Nomura said, and exposing students to the realities of working with industry.  

According to Bradner, Novartis would like to build similar partnerships with other research universities. “Drug discovery is not best performed secretly, in private and in isolation,” he said. “I am betting this team of blue sky investigators [at UC-Berkeley], paired with our ruthless drug hunters at Novartis, will arrive at more creative, more brave and more definitive solutions than either group on their own.”

Source: Reuters

Posted under: Industry-Sponsored Research Week

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