By Ben Butkus
The Burnham Institute for Medical Research and biotech company Magellan Bioscience said last week that they have forged a collaboration to try to identify marine microbial compounds that could have the potential to be used as drug-discovery tools or form the basis of new therapeutics.
The research partnership is the first with a private company for Burnham's Lake Nona, Fla., branch, which in May opened its permanent location in the Orlando area after inhabiting temporary digs since 2006.
Under the agreement, Burnham will contribute its ultra-high-throughput small-molecule screening resources, while Magellan will contribute its collection of marine-derived microorganisms and natural product chemistry experience, the organizations said.
Specifically, researchers from both organizations will use Burnham's robotic screening system to run bioassays and characterize lead candidates from Magellan's collection. Burnham medicinal chemists will also optimize novel compounds to create biological probes and preclinical drug candidates, the organizations said.
Gregory Roth, associate professor and director of medicinal chemistry and pharmacology at Burnham, told BTW this week that the agreement was "truly a cooperative research collaboration" as opposed to a sponsored research pact.
"We've teamed up with Magellan because Burnham and Magellan have complementary but unique resources. We have an enormous amount of high-throughput screening capacity," Roth said, referring to the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics at Burnham Lake Nona, one of four National Institutes of Health-sponsored comprehensive screening and probe-development centers in the US.
"It's no secret that natural products, and specifically marine natural products, are an incredible source of potential drugs," Roth said. "We're not a natural-products organization, though, so Magellan is supplying us with a pipeline of natural product extracts that come from proprietary microbial sources from all over the world."
Conversely, Magellan's expertise is primarily in "preparing and isolating and processing the natural products, and perhaps ultimately a single small molecule that is responsible for biological activity," Roth said.
In addition, Burnham has some 70 faculty members on its staff, many of whom have significant drug-development experience. "Two of my groups, specifically, are well-versed in the medicinal chemistry and pharmacology needed to advance these toward drug candidate status," Roth said.
Roth himself joined Burnham around three years ago after spending 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, and one of the Magellan researchers participating in the project "has similar experience," Roth said. "So we're drug hunters, without a doubt."
In a statement, Magellan CEO Todd Daviau said that "Burnham's scientific and technological approach, coupled with their highly qualified and industry-experienced research teams, constitutes a significant opportunity for the discovery and development of new pharmaceutical candidates."
Roth told BTW that each organization will be responsible for its own financial contribution to the partnership. However, "when that discovery moment occurs, we will put together a separate agreement and advance it jointly under some sort of sponsored research," Roth said. "But both of us have accepted to share the risk, and hopefully both of us will reap the rewards at the end."
Roth also said that if intellectual property were to result from the partnership it would be "jointly owned and jointly developed."
Should the partners identify a viable therapeutic candidate from their research, there are at least two options for further developing it, Roth said. The first would be to seek a third partner in a biotech or a big pharma company, which are "heavily shopping at institutes, universities, and small biotechs for their discoveries," Roth said.
A second option, which depends on the technology or IP, is for Burnham to spin out a company "or to further develop Magellan as a company" with drug-development capabilities," Roth added.
The collaboration is also noteworthy for Burnham because it is the first corporate partnership for its new permanent facility in Lake Nona, a suburb of Orlando.
All of Burnham Lake Nona's previous research collaborations were with other academic institutions, many in the state of Florida, Roth said. "This would be the first with a small company native and local to the state," and is representative of the type of collaboration that Burnham envisioned when it established its East Coast campus, he added.
Burnham, which also has facilities in La Jolla and Santa Barbara, Calif., officially began operations at its new facility in May. Prior to that, the institute conducted its Florida operations in temporary space donated by Florida's Blood Centers building in Orlando.