University of California Medical Campuses Lay Framework for Drug Discovery Alliance

On April 15, 2015, more than forty leaders from across the University of California (UC) system joined representatives from the biomedical industry to discuss plans for strengthening UC’s position as a leader in drug, device and diagnostics development.  The meeting was part of the Drug and Device Discovery and Development (D4) initiative, a collaborative effort among UC’s five medical campuses to pool resources and expertise to accelerate the discovery and development of products that improve health. 

Led by June Lee, Professor of Medicine and Director, Early Translational Research at UCSF, D4 has been working in tandem with the University of California Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration & Development (UC BRAID) program to define D4’s priorities.  In her introductory remarks, Lee outlined those priorities – creating an efficient model for multi-campus collaborations with industry partners and setting up a UC Drug Discovery Alliance.

June Lee, D4 Chair and Professor of Medicine at UCSF

Lee commented, “We have come a long way since the inception of D4 two years ago and are now in the position to take tangible steps forward on these priorities.  By bringing diverse stakeholders from all of our medical campuses together with leaders from the UC Office of the President and external stakeholders, we will be able to put together and execute on an informed plan.”

The full day event, held in San Francisco, consisted of panel discussions and breakout sessions. 

The first panel addressed how to set up a successful collaboration between several UC institutions and an industry partner and featured representatives from UCSF, UC Irvine, UC Davis, MedImmune and Quest Diagnostics.  Among the topics discussed were how to create a mechanism for connecting industry with academic researchers, streamlining the contracting process and managing complex collaborative projects. UC BRAID has already commenced work on multi-campus agreements in the realm of clinical trials.

D4 Drug Discovery Panel
D4 panel discussion on enabling early drug discovery – From left to right: Rajesh Ranganathan, NINDS, Stephen Freedman, Gladstone Institutes, Juan Harrison, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Cathy Tralau-Stewart, UCSF, and Alan Ashworth, UCSF

The second panel discussed enabling and stimulating early drug discovery in academia and debated models for the creation of the UC Drug Discovery Alliance.  Representatives from UCSF, Gladstone Institutes, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, MedImmune and the NIH participated.

“The UC system is uniquely positioned to be successful in drug discovery,” said Cathy Tralau-Stewart of UCSF, who led the panel discussion.  Tralau-Stewart, who is the Head of the Therapeutics Track for UCSF’s Catalyst Program, previously ran a drug discovery center at Imperial College London and was Associate Director of Pharmacology at GlaxoSmithKline.  “World class research expertise, extensive core facilities and access to California’s well-developed innovation ecosystem of leading biotechs and pharmas are strong differentiators for UC in the drug development space,” she said.

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to academic institutions to supply de-risked drug targets and candidates. However, the challenges for an academic researcher to move from basic disease-related research to the identification and development of a drug candidate are immense. The UC Drug Discovery Alliance  will support UC researchers by supplying expertise in drug development, access to UC core facilities and pilot funding, and will enable the translation of many more novel therapeutics projects from the lab to patients.  The creation of  quality data and robust intellectual property packages for projects will also create significant value for the UC system.

The panel identified the need for institutional support, diverse sources of funding and partnerships within the life-science eco-system as key areas of focus.  There was also lively debate around what type of organizational model the UC Drug Discovery Alliance would adopt and how to engage industry partners.

Following the panel discussions, multiple breakout sessions were held to identify high priority action items and lay out next steps.  Multi-campus, cross-functional workgroups will now begin work to move specific initiatives forward. Next steps for the UC Drug Discovery Alliance include selecting a focus area, initiation of partnering and fundraising activities, and creating a business plan.

Michael Rogawski of UC Davis summarized the promise of D4 by stating, “The opportunities that we are addressing will greatly enhance translational research across the UC system and ensure that researchers’ promising discoveries achieve their potential for clinical impact.  All of our campuses have great science and unique strengths to offer, and working together, we will have an even more profound impact on the future of drugs, devices and diagnostics.”