On a cancer quest
May 2011
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author

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FOSTER CITY, Calif.—For about the past year, Gilead Sciences Inc. has been on a buying and partnership spree that aims to boost its oncology pipeline and broaden its expertise in inflammation. On the heels of its $375 million acquisition of privately held biotechnology company Calistoga Pharmaceuticals Inc., Gilead announced March 30 that it has entered into a multi-year research collaboration focused on the discovery of novel cancer therapies with one of the nation's most prestigious research universities—the Yale School of Medicine.

Gilead's push to expand its oncology portfolio has also involved its summer 2010 acquisition of Branford, Conn.-based CGI Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $120 million and its new-year acquisition of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Arresto Biosciences Inc. for $225 million.

"Following the recent acquisitions of Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, Arresto Biosciences and CGI Pharmaceuticals, this partnership with Yale serves to further broaden Gilead's cancer drug discovery capabilities as we aim to establish integrated R&D expertise in this therapeutic area," says Nathan Kaiser, a spokesman for Gilead.

This most recent collaboration, Kaiser notes, will enable Gilead to increase its understanding of the genetic basis of cancer, furthering its ability to develop disease specific-targeted therapies.

"By combining genomics, biochemistry and other strategies, we hope to identify promising disease-specific targeted therapies that will ultimately benefit patients," he says.

Under their collaboration agreement, Gilead and Yale will spend the next four years developing a research program to search for the genetic basis and underlying molecular mechanisms of many forms of cancer. During this first phase of the collaboration, Gilead will provide $40 million in research support and basic science infrastructure development. This initial effort may be renewed for another 10 years, during which Gilead will provide a total of $100 million in research funding. Gilead will have the first option to license Yale inventions that result from the collaboration.

Scientists from both organizations will work together to identify define novel drivers of cancer, delineate drivers of metastasis, identify mechanisms of resistance and develop sensitive assays and biochemical screens. The research effort will tackle a variety of cancer types, including various solid tumors and hematological malignancies.

Research projects will be chosen by a joint steering committee to be chaired by Dr. Joseph Schlessinger, chair of Yale's Department of Pharmacology and director of the Cancer Biology Institute at West Campus. The institute, headed by Dr. Richard Lifton, chair of the Department of Genetics, will analyze the DNA of a variety of tumor types to look for genetic mutations associated with cancers. Schlessinger's team will use the data to understand effects of the gene mutations on cancer and to identify ways to intervene in the disease process, such as identifying small molecules that will serve as the basis of new cancer therapies.

The Yale science team will also include Dr. Thomas Lynch, director of the Yale Cancer Center, a physician known for his work in personalized treatments for cancer patients.

The Yale Cancer Center is one of a select network of 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation designated by the National Cancer Institute and the only comprehensive center in southern New England.

"Gilead was drawn to Yale, which has a team of researchers with proven expertise in tumor profiling and genetics," Kaiser tells ddn. "These researchers have made tremendous strides in delineating mechanisms that underlie a variety of cancers. "

Yale did not respond to interview requests. In a news release announcing the partnership, Schlessinger said, "When we find cancer targets that are new, we will work with Gilead on designing drugs, which they can then test in the clinic. This is a tremendous opportunity for Yale and Gilead. "

The collaboration, added Yale President Richard C. Levin, "brings together one of the world's top research universities and a biopharmaceutical company dedicated to addressing unmet medical needs with the goal of finding new treatments for cancer."

"This truly is transformative support that leverages the Yale Cancer Center's top scientists, our West Campus technology investments and the resources of the new Smilow Cancer Hospital. I can't think of a better partner to have in this collaboration than Gilead," Levin stated.

Code: E051123

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