The Scripps Research Institute has licensed to Poniard Pharmaceuticals a class of protein kinase inhibitors for treating a variety of diseases, capping a research collaboration begun in 2005, Poniard and Scripps said this week.
The agreement, which gives the drug maker access to a class of compounds that have shown anti-cancer activity, also marks the first time that Scripps Research Institute’s Florida facility has outlicensed a technology developed through an industry-sponsored research agreement.
Opened in 2004, the institute now hopes to continue to ramp up its tech-transfer activity by outlicensing technologies developed on its own and through other ongoing industry-sponsored research agreements as it prepares for a 2009 move into new facilities.
“I think we can consider [the Scripps Florida collaboration] a success,” Brendan Doherty, manager of corporate communications and investor relations for Poniard, told BTW this week. “This is a significant event for [Scripps Florida]. It shows that they can collaborate and work well with industry and do meaningful work out of a relatively new facility.”
The original sponsored research agreement was established in August 2005 between Scripps Florida and NeoRx, which changed its name to Poniard the following year. Terms of that agreement called for Poniard to provide Scripps Florida $2.5 million over 26 months to help discover novel small-molecule kinase inhibitors as potential cancer therapeutics.
In return, Poniard received an option to negotiate a worldwide exclusive license to any compounds developed during the collaboration. The partnership was later expanded to include scientists from Scripps’ main campus in La Jolla, Calif.
Last week, Poniard said that it had completed a licensing agreement for certain kinase inhibitors discovered during that research project, though it did not indicate whether it took an exclusive license to the compounds.
Scripps and Poniard also declined to provide any additional financial terms of the licensing arrangement, although officials involved with the project on both sides indicated that the agreement marked the end of the research collaboration.
“We are pleased with the productive collaboration with Scripps Research,” Poniard CEO Jerry McMahon said in a statement. “We are on target with our program at Poniard to identify a kinase drug candidate that has the potential to be combined with our lead product picoplatin, which is currently in a Phase 3 registration study for small-cell lung cancer.”
Doherty told BTW that the next steps for Poniard would be to “do a selection out of the group of candidates that we have here, go ahead with pre-clinical research, and then move them forward with an investigational new drug application.”
“At the time of the agreement [with Scripps] I don’t know that we even had a wet lab available. So this has been a very valuable and meaningful collaboration.”
Before joining Poniard, McMahon was president and head of research at Sugen, an early 1990s developer of anti-cancer kinase inhibitors. After Pharmacia acquired Sugen in 1999, and Pfizer acquired Pharmacia in 2002, Pfizer went on to win US Food and Drug Administration approval for Sutent, a treatment for advanced renal cell carcinoma and gastrointestinal stromal tumors originally developed at Sugen by McMahon, director of chemistry Chris Liang, and others.
Sugen was disbanded over the course of those acquisitions but McMahon still wanted to continue researching kinase inhibitors, which led him to reconnect with Liang, who was eventually hired by Scripps Florida, Doherty said. Liang now serves as director of medicinal chemistry at the institute.
“We’re excited to move forward with these candidates in a very targeted area of oncology,” Doherty said. “It’s right in line with what our CEO has done in the past. He understands kinase inhibitors, having been behind one of the first ones to be approved.
“At the time of the agreement [with Scripps] I don’t know that we even had a wet lab available,” Doherty added. “So this has been a very valuable and meaningful collaboration.”
Liang told BTW that his lab at Scripps Florida was able to accumulate data demonstrating that the kinase inhibitors they developed are “very effective and selective” and show “drug-like capabilities,” which is why Poniard decided to license the molecules for further development. Liang also said that the inhibitors have shown efficacy in mouse models and elicit very good oral bioavailability.
For Scripps Florida, the deal serves to prove that it can perform “meaningful” drug-discovery work despite being four years old and housed in temporary facilities, Doherty said.
Overall, Scripps has 229 faculty members and 686 research associates at its La Jolla branch, and 58 faculty and 59 research associates in its temporary Jupiter branch, which is located on the campus of Florida Atlantic University.
Scripps spokesperson Keith McKeown said that “once Scripps Florida moves onto its new campus in Jupiter, we expect that it will attract additional faculty, which should translate into more tech-transfer deals like this.”
Peter Policastro, senior director of business development at Scripps, told BTW that “certainly we are in the early days here, and this is one of the initial SRAs we contracted. It’s gone through to successful completion, and is representative of what we will see going forward.”
Policastro added that since the SRA with Poniard, Scripps Florida has inked research agreements with other undisclosed companies, and has also licensed out technologies that it developed through non-corporate-sponsored research. However, he acknowledged that this was the first licensure of technology developed through a corporate partnership.
“We see this as evidence that our [drug-discovery] model works,” Policastro said.
Since it is unclear how much Poniard paid Scripps to license the kinase inhibitors, it is not known how the Poniard deal affects the tech-transfer bottom line at the institute. According to a Scripps financial report, for the year ended Sept. 30, 2006, the institute recognized about $36.6 million in licensing revenues from both its Jupiter and La Jolla campuses. It also executed 109 licensing agreements for its technologies in 2006, according to a company spokesperson.
However, the $2.5 million paid to Scripps by Poniard for the underlying research is only a drop in the bucket for the institute, which is one of the most well-funded independent research institutes in the US. In 2007, Scripps received about $297 million in sponsored research from the government, corporations, and other organizations.
Still, the Poniard collaboration is an important stepping stone for Scripps Florida. Liang said that his lab and Scripps Florida in general are currently in discussion with a number of undisclosed potential industrial partners.
Liang said that the Poniard deal “demonstrates that although Scripps Florida is young, we have effective drug-discovery capabilities.”