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GEN News Highlights : Feb 19, 2010

Genentech and UCSF’s Small Molecule Discovery Center Ink Deal Targeting Neurodegenerative Diseases

Collaboration will build on SMDC’s research and firm’s discoveries.

The University of California, San Francisco and Genentech are partnering to discover and develop drug candidates for neurodegenerative diseases. The company will support the work of several researchers at the UCSF Small Molecule Discovery Center (SMDC) to progress prior SMDC research and Genentech discoveries.

In addition to receiving financial support for its research function, UCSF has the potential for further funding in excess of $13 million if certain development and commercial milestones are met. UCSF will also earn royalties on sales of any resulting products.

This is the first major collaboration that the SMDC has formed with an industry partner, according to Jim Wells, Ph.D., who founded the center in 2005 and serves as its director. Dr. Wells and the center's associate directors Adam Renslo, Ph.D., and Michelle Arkin, Ph.D., will lead the project.

“What is transformative about this agreement from the university's perspective is that it is a true collaboration between UCSF and Genentech scientists with the intent to generate drug candidates,” Dr. Wells comments. “This is different from a standard out-license or simple research collaboration.

“Finding targeted compounds is a major obstacle in the drug discovery process in part because most academic researchers don't have access to this type of facility,” Dr. Wells adds. “This collaboration shows how a center like the SMDC can help support the path from new biology into therapeutic products to help improve patients' lives.”

The center is based on high-throughput screening, medicinal chemistry, and fragment-based screening, including a novel approach called tethering, which Dr. Wells pioneered in his previous role as founder, president, and CSO at Sunesis Pharmaceuticals. SMDC offers all UC biomedical researchers access to high-throughput screening and follow-up medicinal chemistry technologies. The center performs biochemical and cell-based assays using liquid-handling robots and a screening library of more than 180,000 compounds. Over the past four years, the center has grown to 18 biologists and chemists, many reportedly with pharmaceutical experience.

SMDC’s arrangement with Genentech builds on the existing master agreement between the company and UCSF, which allows the two to collaborate in a streamlined manner. “To date we have entered into more than 15 research collaborations with UCSF across several therapeutic areas,” comments Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D., evp, research and CSO of Genentech.