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New Management Hires for Burnham Aimed at Accelerating Commercialization Efforts

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Burnham Institute for Medical Research hopes that two recent hires will enable it to accelerate its drug commercialization efforts well beyond the Johnson & Johnson agreement announced in January.

Paul Laikind — the former president and CEO of Metabasis Therapeutics, and founder of that company and two others in the life sciences — has been named Burnham's senior vice president, business development and chief business officer, effective in November. He will succeed Robert Zaugg, who according to a Burnham statement, "has submitted his resignation in order to assume another position," 19 months after the institute announced his hiring.

Burnham announced Laikind's hiring on Tuesday, about a month after disclosing its appointment of Michael R. Jackson to the new position of vice president of drug discovery and development. Laikind and Jackson join Burnham some six months after the arrival of Stephen Gardell as director of translational research resources and adjunct associate professor, based at the institute's Orlando, Fla., facility at Lake Nona.

The hires reflect a growing commitment by Burnham to stepping up its commercialization of research through drugs developed with corporate and other partners, Andrea Moser, a Burnham spokeswoman, told GenomeWeb Daily News.

Another Burnham executive with a translational focus is Stephen Smith, who came on board in August as executive director of the Florida Hospital-Burnham Clinical Research Institute. The CRI was created to speed up development of drugs against diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008, the most recent year for which the figures are available, technology transfer and business development revenue accounted for 3 percent of Burnham's budget of $106 million, Moser said.

Like most research institutes, Burnham receives most of its revenue from government grants (78 percent); the remainder comes from other government funding (12 percent), philanthropy (6 percent), and endowments and long-term investments (1 percent). The institute's operating budget this year is $154 million.

Burnham's pipeline includes three drugs that have already won FDA approval — heart attack medicines Integrilin and Aggrastat, and the cancer drug Targretin. The remainder includes candidates in clinical trial stages:

• Phase III — Three candidates: Cancer therapeutics Genasense and NGR-hTNF (Arenegyr); and tissue-regeneration drug Trimax.

• Phase II — Four candidates: hypophosphatasia drug ENB-0400l; cancer drugs Gossypol, Cilengitide, and GC-1008.

• Phase I — Cancer drug ABT-263, and GC-1008 for pulmonary fibrosis.

Burnham announced its first institute-wide partnership with a large pharmaceutical company in January. Under a multi-year assay development and licensing deal whose financial terms were not disclosed, Burnham granted Johnson & Johnson exclusive access to its high-throughput assay screening technologies, in order to determine potential targets for new drugs against inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and lupus.

Given their industry backgrounds, Moser said, Burnham expects Laikind and Jackson, will oversee the institute's effort to "hopefully go out and attract other corporate partnerships like the J&J one, or even expand the J&J partnership" beyond inflammation.

"There are other areas that they're interested in that we could also provide information or assays for," Moser added.

The J&J agreement came four months after Burnham won a $98 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to serve as a comprehensive national screening center for the National Institute of Health's Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network. The same month as the J&J deal, Burnham announced a $10 million donation from Conrad Prebys to the institute, resulting in the Center for Chemical Genomics taking the name of the San Diego real estate developer.

Laikind resigned from the helm of Metabasis in December 2008, capping more than a year of setbacks that included the failure of a type 2 diabetes drug in Phase IIb clinical trials, the pullout of Schering-Plough from a hepatitis B collaboration, a cash squeeze due to the recession, and the first of three rounds of job cuts. He remains on the company's board of directors. Before establishing Metabasis, Laikind founded Gensia Pharmaceuticals and its spinoff, gene therapy company Viagene, which Chiron bought in 1995 for $95 million.

At Burnham, Laikind will lead business development activities that include developing strategies and identifying resources for moving technology discoveries toward clinical and commercial applications, working with faculty to launch new biotechnology companies, and increasing revenue through corporate partnering.

Jackson, whose hiring was announced last month, will oversee chemical biology and drug discovery efforts of the Prebys center at Burnham's La Jolla, Calif., and Orlando/Lake Nona campuses — as well as lead Burnham's efforts to identify drug candidates, developing promising chemical compounds into new medicines, and creating partnerships for preclinical and clinical drug development.

Jackson joined Burnham from J&J, where he spent 15 years advancing to positions of increasing responsibility, notably senior vice president of drug discovery for the US at J&J Pharmaceutical Research and Development, and president of Alza, a drug delivery company acquired by J&J in 2001.