Johnson & Johnson and the University of California, San Diego, last month signed a broad-based memorandum of understanding that lays the groundwork for multiple research and educational collaborations in the health sciences, UCSD said recently.
The MOU, which involves several health sciences-related entities within UCSD, is the first agreement of its kind struck between UCSD and a pharmaceutical company, according to UCSD Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences David Brenner.
The agreement also underscores UCSD’s professed commitment to translational medicine, Brenner said, by matching industry drug-development expertise with specific UCSD research initiatives; and feeds into the expanding life-sciences economy in the San Diego area.
The MOU establishes a framework for future research partnerships between the UCSD School of Medicine, its Skaggs School of Pharmacy, the UCSD Medical Center health system, and J&J Pharmaceutical Research and Development, located in La Jolla, Calif.
Although the MOU does not detail specific research goals or dictate how intellectual property rights will be managed, the agreement “opens the door for various interactions between each group's scientists that certainly can result in specific research collaborations governed by formal agreements and requisite funding,” Brenner wrote in an e-mail to BTW.
“Preliminary work on pre-clinical studies often result in questions or other ideas to be tested and that yield discoveries through research,” Brenner added. “By agreeing on the wording of a general MOU, it will make specific agreements between the two organizations much easier and quicker to execute.”
The partnership has already spawned one specific service agreement, in which Larry Brunton, a professor of pharmacology at UCSD, will test compounds in cardiac cells and tissue to ascertain the effects of a particular amino acid peptide, Brenner said. Specific details of that agreement have not been disclosed.
Likewise, other specific areas of research collaboration have not been revealed, although Brenner said that the expertise of UCSD and J&J scientists overlap particularly in the areas of obesity, pain management, and cardiac treatments, particularly at the pre-clinical stages of testing compounds.
Diego Miralles, head and chief medical officer of J&J PRD’s Research and Early Development unit in San Diego, wrote in an e-mail to BTW that the agreement with Brunton is just one example of a broad variety of collaborations envisioned between J&J and UCSD.
“We are currently looking to develop the legal templates on which all possible scientific collaboration could be advanced,” Miralles said. “We have started with service agreements but we hope to move into consulting, education, scientific collaborations, material transfer agreements, and clinical trials.”
He added that it was difficult to predict how many specific agreements might result from the MOU in a particular time frame. In addition, the MOU does not provide a framework for negotiating rights to any IP that might result from collaborative research. Those details will be negotiated on a project-by-project basis, Brenner said.
“This is one of the areas where we will work together to define,” added Miralles.
UCSD has a long history of collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, in particular Pfizer, which has a strong research presence in the San Diego area. However, the MOU with J&J marks the school’s first broad-based, open-ended agreement with a big pharma.
“We are currently looking to develop the legal templates on which all possible scientific collaboration could be advanced.”
“UCSD has had research projects, clinical trials, and laboratory service studies sponsored by Pfizer over the years but has not entered into a similar broad-based MOU,” Brenner said. “UCSD also has other collaborations sponsored by companies arising from projects with our faculty researchers and clinicians.”
These types of collaborations are on the rise at UCSD, Brenner said, particularly as overall funding to public universities has decreased, but funding for programs such as the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer initiatives, which encourage public-private partnerships, has increased.
“The downstream effect has resulted in academic collaborations with industry which promotes more opportunities for research activities and intellectual property revenue for UCSD,” Brenner said.
“The UCSD commitment to translational medicine really means from laboratory bench to bedside,” he added. “UCSD is involved at every stage from pre-clinical studies, drug development, and all phases of clinical trials. These projects also help UCSD meet its educational mission by bringing cutting edge clinical and research projects for students and faculty to learn from thereby boosting UCSD's national academic standing through a strong research program.”
According to Miralles, J&J “believe[s] working closely with colleagues in the public sector will help strengthen translational research programs and enhance new product development efforts.
“We believe our collaboration will help us find win-win opportunities and maximize our common capabilities,” he added. “We have complementary expertise and it is only natural that we look for synergies between the institutions located in our area.”
The agreement is also an example of the self-perpetuating life-sciences economy in the San Diego area that has resulted from heavy interaction between the academic, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and investment communities.
Brenner said that the original interaction between UCSD and J&J was facilitated by Duane Roth, the president of Connect, a San Diego-based non-profit that brings together scientists, engineers, and venture capitalists to commercialize technologies in a variety of fields.
Brenner said that Roth introduced him to Miralles, who arrived in his new position at J&J earlier this year and “immediately wanted to build local relationships with UCSD scientists working in related fields.”
Now that the framework for those relationships is in place, both parties agree that the San Diego bio-based economy should continue to benefit.
“These relation[ships] are consistent with UCSD's goal to create a great environment for biotech and pharma, and in that way support the San Diego economy,” Brenner said. “When organizations share goals and agree to work together by committing to promoting collaboration among their respective scientists, it benefits the community at large.”
Miralles added that through the partnership, J&J “looks forward to continuing to strengthen our connection with the scientific and R&D communities in San Diego and are looking to explore new areas of research that stem from the collaboration.”