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March 01, 2010 (Vol. 30, No. 5)

Institutional Profile: Sanford-Burnham Sets Up Shop in Florida

Institute Seeks Corporate Collaborators to Take Advantage of Excess HTS Capacity

  • Collaborators Wanted

    The newly installed system is capable of handling 50 HTS campaigns a year, yet is currently operating below capacity. This makes Sanford-Burnham an ideal partner for pharmaceutical companies seeking to externalize R&D projects. “We’re looking for corporate partners that fit into our therapeutic research areas,” says Dr. Reed. Collaborations with Sanford-Burnham could identify innovative drug candidates to strengthen pharmaceutical pipelines. Two new partners are Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development (J&JPRD) and Magellan Bioscience.

    Sanford-Burnham will provide J&JPRD with access to HTS assay technologies to investigate drug targets for inflammatory diseases. The collaboration started in January 2009 and is Sanford-Burnham’s first broad-based partnership with a large pharmaceutical company.

    Magellan Bioscience began collaborating with Sanford-Burnham in July 2009. The multidisciplinary drug discovery program identifies and develops novel marine microbial compounds that show potential as tools for biological research or new medicines. Marine microbes and their natural products provide a new source of drug candidates for the pharmaceutical industry.

    Sanford-Burnham also offers NMR-based screening against targets for which no assay has been developed. “This is unusual in a nonprofit environment, and it’s one of our fortes,” adds Dr. Reed.

    The NMR facility at Sanford-Burnham is the largest of its type affiliated with a nonprofit research institution, according to Dr. Reed. Sanford-Burnham’s NMR center includes four fully dedicated high-field magnets with automated sample changers, a library with 4,000 chemical fragments, and three-dimensional (3-D) modeling programs to evaluate hits. Other tools include robotic x-ray crystallography to investigate crystal structures of compounds and their binding to targets and  high-content screening microscopy that  performs HT phenotype screening.

    Engineers at Sanford-Burnham are advancing the field of HT microscopy by developing software for automated image analysis and 3-D imaging systems to monitor cells growing in 3-D conformations in culture. 

  • No Culture Gap

    Pharmaceutical firms that collaborate with Sanford-Burnham will not face a cultural divide. A blend of academic and industrial scientists at Sanford-Burnham makes it easier to do business with them. About one-fifth of Sanford-Burnham’s drug discovery researchers have backgrounds in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry.

    “They bring the discipline and competency of industrial settings,” says Dr. Reed, such as being accustomed to working toward milestone-driven timelines on projects. The same timeline-driven management style guides the workflow at the CPCCG to fulfill contracts with the NIH and the NCI.

    Another reason to partner with Sanford-Burnham is its strong reputation for scientific publishing, Dr. Reed says. For the past decade, Sanford-Burnham scientists have ranked first worldwide for scientific citations in biology and biochemistry, according to Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports. “The work we do is high quality and has a high impact,” Dr. Reed adds. In addition, Sanford-Burnham ranks second in the number of U.S. patents received for the amount of grant dollars awarded.

    Collaborators can work with Sanford-Burnham researchers in California or Florida. The East and West Coast laboratories operate as a fully integrated, single organization, and researchers conduct daily teleconferences. Sanford-Burnham is exploring opportunities to build on this infrastructure to expand to other sites such as Asia in the future.

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