Kevin Boatright
Office of Research

KU partners with BioPontis Alliance to boost drug development, investment

Thu, 10/20/2011

Bernadette Gray-Little

LAWRENCE — The troublesome gap between university drug research and pharmaceutical company application may narrow in the future, thanks to an agreement signed recently between the University of Kansas and a rapidly emerging new enterprise: BioPontis Alliance.

“There’s a big hurdle to overcome when it comes to translating faculty innovations into therapies and cures,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little in announcing the deal. “It’s often difficult to get the venture capital you need to develop an idea to the point where a company will invest in it. We think the BioPontis model shows great promise for turning discoveries into treatments.”

BioPontis is a unique hybrid firm that combines early-stage capital investment with early-stage drug development. It has formed a relationship with three leaders in the pharmaceutical industry: Merck, Pfizer and the Janssen Biotech unit of Johnson & Johnson. BioPontis uses its knowledge of these companies’ product priorities to seek out and evaluate relevant drug research at selected universities. At the same time, the pharmaceutical partners contribute to the design and conduct of critical drug development objectives, ensuring that new drug candidates meet their technical and regulatory standards.

“BioPontis brings scientific expertise and industry connections to the table,” said Julie Goonewardene, KU associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship. “They are also raising a $50 million pilot fund to help develop alliance-member technologies. KU’s participation is another example of how we are becoming more aggressive about research commercialization and economic development.”

KU is the eighth of 10 institutions nationwide chosen by BioPontis to participate in the alliance. Others are Columbia University, the University of Virginia, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the University of North Carolina, the University of Florida, New York University and the University of Pennsylvania. Two other participants will be added shortly.

“That’s a select group,” said Steve Warren, KU vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, “and KU is the only one that’s not on the East Coast.” He noted that BioPontis’ areas of focus are cancer, neurology, inflammation and infectious diseases. “That’s a good matchup for KU’s research strengths at both campuses.”

KU will benefit from the arrangement in several ways, said Warren. “We and our faculty inventors get BioPontis’ candid evaluation of KU technologies, as well as their insights into what products companies are looking to develop. There’s also the enhanced prospect of KU research making it into the marketplace, where it can benefit the whole of society. That remains our ultimate goal.”

Under the agreement, KU becomes a scientific and profit-sharing partner in all intellectual property development that occurs after BioPontis licenses and begins to invest in a potential new drug candidate. The KU inventor will remain involved in this process, gaining an opportunity to learn from seasoned drug development scientists at BioPontis.

“The BioPontis business model makes sense and can help solve a nagging problem in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Paul Terranova, vice chancellor for research at the KU Medical Center. “The process of translational research — lab bench to patient bedside — takes too long and costs too much. By acting as a go-between, BioPontis can serve universities as well as industry, making the process more efficient and effective.”

There’s a further benefit to the new consortium, said Gray-Little. “Universities are used to having academic collaborations. Under this agreement, we can also collaborate with other alliance members on commercial development of technologies, with BioPontis as the facilitator. That opportunity for campus-to-campus collaboration enhances everyone’s assets and adds real value.”

More information about BioPontis Alliance, LLC, is online.

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