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Incyte collaboration with Vanderbilt is all about the connection, not just funding

By David Schwartz
Published: May 15th, 2018

Research collaborations between universities and corporations are not always perfectly constructed or designed from the start. And just as a start-up company often needs to evolve, pivot, and iterate, so too do industry-academic partnerships in many cases — a point made clear by the relationship that’s growing and evolving between Vanderbilt University and Incyte Corp.

Incyte, an oncology drug discovery company, says its research relationships with academia are not necessarily pegged to a specific outcome; rather, it’s the connection itself that is of primary importance.

Incyte first announced a multi-year research support and collaboration agreement with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2015. The company agreed to fund certain aspects of Vanderbilt’s cancer research activities as a way to “develop an improved understanding of basic cancer biology and the mechanisms of action of certain Incyte proprietary compounds.” In addition, Incyte said it hoped to “develop novel approaches to patient selection.”

Later that year, executives and researchers from Incyte huddled with Vandy investigators at a Nashville retreat, where school reps touted its large-scale phase 1 clinical trials program and the pharma company said “the competition to be the first to get to a certain point [with new therapies] is certainly higher than it has ever been.” The pair then announced a three-year grant under which researchers work together to test “several potent compounds” that appear promising for the treatment of hematologic malignancies and solid tumors. Vandy’s Michael Savona, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the Hematology Early Therapeutics Program at VICC, is principal investigator on the grant.

Now, reports Reid Huber, PhD, Incyte’s chief scientific officer, the Vanderbilt-Incyte Research Alliance has expanded again, with a new grant program to fund qualified faculty as they study issues related to ideal therapeutic intervention points, drug resistance, and patient selection models associated with Incyte’s drug development program. 

Each project funded in the 2018 grant cycle could receive $100,000; multiple grants will be awarded and some projects will receive funding beyond the first year, based on “demonstrable progress of the proposed year one objectives.” Applicants are judged by the Vanderbilt-Incyte Research Alliance Joint Steering Committee (JSC), composed of both Vanderbilt investigators and Incyte execs, Huber notes. The steering committee’s responsibilities include:

  • setting the budget for the Alliance,
  • making sure the budget “reflects the science we’re going to accomplish,”
  • setting the research agenda and determining how it evolves from year to year,
  • sending out Requests for Proposals to identify investigators at Vanderbilt with “specific expertise and a scientific question worthy of funding.”

The grant program is a natural outgrowth of the Alliance, Huber says. “We’ve had a relationship with many of the investigators at Vanderbilt, and in ongoing discussions, we grew to realize there’s a significant overlap between our research priorities,” he comments. “That led to exploration of how we might work together to explore various aspects of cancer research, focused on making therapeutic advances, and to come up with an arrangement for Incyte to provide funding for investigators to conduct research.”

He adds: “It’s really no different than the type of funding an investigator would get from other institutions. It’s a competitive process, like other funding programs, where often only the best or the most aligned with the core vision of the funder receives the dollars.” In this case, though, “one major difference is participating investigators have access to Incyte scientists and Incyte-discovered compounds, reagents and technologies,” Huber notes. “Perhaps the unique aspect is it’s designed to bring the best and the brightest at Vanderbilt into close contact [with Incyte researchers] — in addition to the funding dollars to advance the science.”

A detailed article on the Incyte-Vanderbilt partnership appears in the April issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To subscribe and get the full article, along with access to the publication’s subscriber-only archive of industry partnership best practices and success strategies, CLICK HERE

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