While Burt Adelman has been in Boston since 1991, it wasn’t until he joined Novo Ventures Inc. about four years ago that he realized there was often no way to tie the area’s drug development together into something resembling a cohesive whole.
“It had never occurred to me that it’s an insular culture,” he told BioWorld. “All these institutions have unique characteristics making it difficult to break into them, so I looked into how to turbocharge their introduction.”
Now Novo and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have launched the Novo Broad Greenhouse, a collaboration for discovering new therapies and moving them into the clinic. Projects will be led by members of the Broad Institute, who include institute faculty and professional scientists, Broad-affiliated faculty at MIT, Harvard and Harvard-affiliated hospitals. Novo Holdings committed up to $25 million over five years for the project.
Adelman, with an MD from Cornell Medical College and who served as a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School and the Medical College of Virginia, understands how drug development works having been an executive vice president of R&D at Biogen Inc. and Dyax Corp. To drive cooperation and development, his mission as a Novo senior advisor became using the Greenhouse to unite academic expertise, drug discovery capabilities from the Broad Institute’s Center for the Development of Therapeutics (CDoT), and a sustainable funding base and therapeutics development expertise from Novo Holdings. CDot has a pipeline that includes cancer, cardiovascular, psychiatric diseases and immunoregulation.
“The network is 4,000 scientists across Brigham [and Women’s Hospital], Mass General, MIT, the Harvard hospital system,” Adelman said. “We focused on CDoT, which has great equipment, a great staff, super smart and experienced people.”
CDoT is designed to safely squire academic labs through “the valley of death,” a place where investigators come up with great ideas but the ability to develop a therapeutic molecule and put together screen and assay systems is fraught with complications, the biggest of which is money.
“It’s very expensive and many academic labs couldn’t raise enough money,” Adelman said. “It’s about $500,000 to $600,000 to take a project into the lab.”
While funding early ideas in the search for potential therapeutic molecules, Adelman also didn’t want to create another accelerator; those come with problems of their own that he wished to avoid, especially the mountains of paperwork it takes to run them … and can often overrun them. The mother institutions have a prenegotiated deal from Novo with the Broad.
“They don’t have to get lawyers and don’t have to waste a lot of time on something, like how IP is handled,” Adelman said. “We can choose projects, ask if can you start in the next few weeks, and maybe even in two weeks. There’s no paperwork, only developing a development plan. We say, ‘Here’s the experiments and budget.’ We can do that because Broad prenegotiated these relationships, so we have agreed to that in exchange for financing. Our upside is the Broad’s upside.”
The Greenhouse’s seed projects may include validating new drug targets, assessing the druggability of certain proteins or genes, or developing assays to assess a drug candidate’s potential. Once they are past the seed phase, additional funding comes with the sprout phase and ultimately into the bloom phase – graduation from the Greenhouse toward definitive clinical testing in patients, supported either by a new biotech or by a strategic partner.
With that format, Adelman said scientists and labs remain intimately involved in the progress, gaining collaborators.
“We agreed that a good strategy would be to put 10 ideas a year into CDoT, each at $500,000 to $600,000. We knew the dropout rate was going to be high, and that an experiment ought to run five years at a minimum,” Adelman said.
Novo Ventures supports Novo Holdings A/S’s investments in private, public and structured product opportunities in life sciences. Novo Holdings is a private limited liability company, wholly owned by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.