By Daniel S., Levine
Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) is continuing to build its ties with the academic world with two new collaborations with the University of California, San Francisco, which it says will advance groundbreaking innovation from the lab to the patient.
For Sanofi, which has entered into collaborations with Harvard University, The Charité University in Berlin, and a group of leading French academic institutions through the French Life Sciences and Healthcare Alliance AVIESAN, the deal represents a continuing effort by the company under CEO Chris Viebacher’s leadership at looking externally for sources of innovation that could help the company rebuild its pipeline.
For UCSF, which is feeling the pressure from state and federal budgets, partnerships such as the one with Sanofi represents an ongoing effort to tap into new sources of funding and better position the university researchers for working with industry as pressure increases to conduct translational research. UCSF has entered into a number of collaborations with pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer.
The first collaboration with UCSF promotes innovative research in pharmacological science and in multiple therapeutic areas, such as oncology, aging, diabetes and inflammation. The second collaboration is an oncology partnership that will focus on project-based collaboration to accelerate the progression of research through the clinical proof of concept stage.
Sanofi will be the first industry partner for UCSF’s Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research, which awards funding to projects of potentially high impact, greater creativity, and with an innovative approach to scientific discovery. Currently entering its 14th year, UCSF said the program provided $42 million in these grants during its first decade alone, which now are credited with drawing more than $300 million in external follow-up funding, as well as generating 900 scientific papers, 30 filed patents, licensed technologies and three startup companies.
Under the terms of the agreement, a joint Sanofi-UCSF steering committee will choose from among UCSF-generated proposals identified for their scientific merit. Sanofi will fund up to five grants a year, with additional funds being available for students or fellows to intern at Sanofi to conduct collaborative research.
Sanofi will also fund an annual research forum that will bring together Sanofi and UCSF researchers to share knowledge and perspectives on relevant scientific matters and to review progress of research projects funded through the collaboration.
Though a decade ago such agreements set off considerable handwringing and protest in academia over the fear of academic freedom and integrity being compromised, today these agreements are increasingly commonplace and driven by mutual need. While industry needs access to new science, the traditional sources of funding are not only subject to economic and political vagaries, but demanding of a concrete return on public investment in the form not just of ideas, but also actual products that grow the economy and benefit people in need of new therapies.