UC Launches Drug Discovery Consortium

Catherine Tralau-Stewart, UCSF

Note: The consortium brings together UC's five medical center campuses — Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco — to share resources and expertise to help develop new drugs.

By Alec Rosenberg via UC Newsroom

For 12 years, UCLA researcher Dennis Slamon pursued a groundbreaking approach to treating breast cancer: attack the disease genetically.

The journey was long and filled with obstacles, but his persistence paid off.

Slamon and colleagues conducted laboratory and clinical research that, in collaboration with biotechnology firm Genentech, helped lead to development of the breast cancer drug Herceptin.

The drug, which targets a specific genetic alteration found in about 25 percent of breast cancer patients, has saved thousands of women’s lives. Lifetime even made a movie based on Slamon's struggles, "Living Proof," starring Harry Connick Jr.

But not all drug discovery efforts have a Hollywood ending.

The odds of developing a blockbuster drug are slim. Thousands of compounds are screened, and only about 1 in 10 drugs that survive the initial stages to enter clinical trials eventually receives approval. The road from discovery to drug product can take more than a decade and cost more than $2 billion.

How can the drug discovery process be improved?

The newly launched University of California Drug Discovery Consortium aims to tackle that problem by working together as a UC system to speed and increase development of a range of drugs to help patients. This not only could help generate life-saving treatments, but also create significant economic activity from spinoff companies to licenses and collaborations with industry.

"The leap from academic discovery to drug product is time consuming and costly," said Catherine Tralau-Stewart, UC San Francisco associate professor of therapeutics and campus lead for the consortium. "We're trying to improve how we support drug discovery across the UC campuses. We’re hopeful that the end result will be more innovative UC therapeutics reaching patients. The development of industrial, philanthropic and investment partnerships will be a key part of the consortium."

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