Healthcare investment firm Deerfield Management committed up to $130 million to accelerate drug development at Columbia University, the organizations announced Wednesday.
Deerfield pledged 10 years of support to develop pharmaceuticals that treat patients' hard-to-treat and rare diseases. Columbia's technology ventures arm will partner with Deerfield via the new company Hudson Heights Innovations.
"Much of our research is aimed at understanding at the molecular level how diseases develop and how we can intervene with drugs or other therapeutics," Dr. Lee Goldman, dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine and CEO of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said in prepared remarks. "The goal of our alliance with Deerfield is to shepherd those discoveries into clinical development as rapidly as possible and create new therapies that improve the lives of patients."
Starting this fall, Columbia researchers can submit proposals to a Hudson Heights Innovations committee that includes both Columbia and Deerfield representatives. Deerfield will provide funding and operational support for accepted projects, and successful projects that achieve investigational new drug status may be eligible for additional capital from Deerfield. Hudson Heights Innovations would receive an option to license Hudson Heights Innovations-funded intellectual property developed at Columbia.
Columbia is the latest addition to Deerfield's growing investment in early stage drug research at academic institutions, which was up to $500 million when Modern Healthcare spoke with Deerfield managing partner James Flynn in December. In 2018 alone, Deerfield partnered with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, University of California at San Diego, University of North Carolina and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Universities have typically shied away from early stage drug development without willing partners to share the financial burden given the low rate of success. But that has changed as science has advanced, Flynn said.
"In the old world it was extremely expensive to fail," he said.
Now, institutions are eager to reap the benefits of related royalties, an equity stake in spinoffs or milestone payments. They also earn recognition and prestige with each breakthrough, he said.
"As the science validates these investments more cheaply, the industry will become more engaged," Flynn said.