An innovative funding model designed to promote interdepartmental collaboration with the Moulder Center for Drug Discovery Research in Temple’s School of Pharmacy is already showing results.
As part of the expansion of the Moulder Center in 2010, the university established a competitive process for awarding two-year, $100,000 Drug Discovery Initiative (DDI) grants. These proof-of-concept grants allow researchers across the university to generate preliminary data that can be used in applying for government, private or industry funds.
The grants are also having a positive impact on the university’s intellectual property portfolio. From the first three awarded by the Moulder Center in March 2011, three drug-related patent applications have been filed by Temple’s office of technology development and commercialization.
“With this grant program, the Moulder Center is helping to address the ‘valley of death’ when it comes to innovation, and that is that initial, critical stage of establishing proof-of-concept,” said Stephen G. Nappi, associate vice provost for technology development and commercialization. “But it is also allowing researchers to move along two parallel paths: establishing the necessary data to attract additional funding, but also building a strong intellectual property position to advance that technology commercially.”
Salim Merali, associate professor of biochemistry in the Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology, and College of Science and Technology faculty members Rodrigo Andrade and Mark Feitelson were awarded the initial DDI grants. These grants have resulted in two patent filings from Merali’s project and one from the Andrade’s.
“Originally, what we had was a basic science finding where we had a protein that could play an important role in the treatment of cancer,” said Merali. “But how could we take this protein and develop it into a drug for treating prostate cancer?”
Merali said that the Moulder DDI grant provided essential funding, as well as access to the Moulder Center’s resources and expertise, which allowed them to validate their work. It also provided data that shows that the protein could also play a role in treating obesity.
“The DDI grant from the Moulder Center helped make our research more translational,” said Merali. “Plus, we now also have very good data to apply for government or industry funding to take our research even further.”
Andrade, an associate professor of organic chemistry, had developed natural product-based molecules that could play a key role in overcoming multi-drug resistance in cancer therapy.
“Through this DDI grant, we were able to use the Moulder Center’s expertise to synthesize these molecules and have them screened to see what targets they hit and what the possible side effects might be,” he said.
Andrade and Merali both said the DDI grants gave them access to pharma industry resources that they otherwise would not have been able to utilize.
“The screening process is usually left for the pharma industry to complete because it is normally cost-prohibitive for academic researchers,” said Andrade.
“This funding allowed the researchers to take, for example, a biological target and identify and design a compound that is optimal to affect that target,” said Nappi. “Now with the compound you are looking at a potentially novel piece of intellectual property.
“From a commercialization perspective, Temple wants to file for a patent on a compound as opposed to a biological target, because that’s what industry is most interested in licensing,” he said. “Patenting a compound is the ultimate form of protection when it comes to drug development.”
Magid Abou-Gharbia, director of the Moulder Center and associate dean for research in the School of Pharmacy, believes that without the aid of the DDI grants the researchers would not have been able to progress their projects to the point where they were commercially attractive to have patent applications filed.
“So it is a win-win for both the researchers and the university,” he said.
Last spring, four new DDI grants were awarded to Temple School of Medicine researchers in biochemistry, neuroscience, microbiology and at the Fels Institute.
Merali and Nappi both said that the DDI grants are proving to be a model that could be used in other areas throughout the university.
“This creation of these Moulder DDI grants is one of the best decisions that Temple has ever made,” said Merali. “It is a small investment, but if just one of these patent applications develop into a commercial product, Temple will benefit tremendously.”
Nappi views the proof-of-concept grants as a mechanism that can seed new start-up companies to develop Temple-created technologies. One such company, Onconova Therapeutics, licensed and developed a novel cancer therapeutic created by Temple researchers. It recently signed a $50 million European commercialization agreement that will provide millions of dollars in licensing revenue to the university.
The Moulder Center DDI grants are also providing a model for other institutions.
“The University of Rochester Medical Center, which already has a drug discovery partnership with the Moulder Center, is mimicking our Drug Discovery Initiative grants by setting aside $500,000 for their researchers to work with the Moulder Center on drug discovery projects,” said Abou-Gharbia.
The Moulder Center for Drug Discovery Research was established in Temple’s School of Pharmacy in 2008 through a gift by alumni Lonnie and Sharon Moulder (Pharm ’80). Lonnie Moulder, co-founder and CEO of TESARO, Inc., a privately held oncology-focused biopharmaceutical company in Waltham, Mass., was recently appointed to the Temple University Board of Trustees.