November 1, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 19)

Editor’s Note

The Peptide Therapeutics Foundation recently reported that 131 peptide drug candidates were in development and 54 additional ones had been approved for marketing. The foundation went on to note that over the past 30 years, peptides have been widely investigated as potential therapies for a number of diseases. Indeed, from 2000 through 2008, most of the peptides being studied were being looked at as possible treatments for cancer and metabolic disorders.

This month’s GEN 30th Anniversary Flashback features one of the early investments in the therapeutic protein and peptide field made by a pharmaceutical company in collaboration with a major academic center. Bristol-Myers was searching for new anticancer and anti-infective drugs and paid over $2 million to Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons to support research by a specialist in gene structure and expression. The company was betting on the ability of Dr. Argiris Efstratiadis to use genetic engineering technology to produce promising peptides in quantity.

The article also provides details on one of the first industry/academic partnerships, which, as a group, went on to become one of the cornerstones of the global biotechnology business.

—John Sterling, Editor in Chief

“As Seen in GEN”—Flashback Volume 3, Number 6, Nov/Dec 1983

Bristol-Myers in $2.3 Million Funding of Columbia Research

Bristol-Myers Co., the New York based pharmaceutical firm, has concluded an agreement with Colombia University under which the firm has pledged $2.3 million in funds to support research by Dr. Argiris Efstratiadis of Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Efstratiadis is a professor of human genetics and development, and a specialist in studies of gene structure and expression.

His primary contributions to research have been in establishing the use of recombinant DNA techniques in examining the structure, function and evolution of mammalian genes, especially those which encode production of globin and insulin. Bristol-Myers has a commercial interest in a variety of therapeutic peptides and proteins which might be produced in large quantities via recombinant fermentations. The company is interested particularly in anti-cancer and anti-infective drugs.

Under the agreement, Bristol-Myers will have first rights to license any products or developments arising out of the sponsored research. All patents will be retained by Columbia, and all inventions and other intellectual property also will remain the property of the university. The university also will receive royalties from the sale of any products developed through the research, and the agreement does not limit Columbia’s right to publish information about work conducted at the laboratory.

“Modern developments in biochemistry emphasize the central importance of peptides and proteins in cell regulation,” said Dr. Maxwell Gordon, senior vice president of Bristol-Myers Science & Technology Division. “Recombinant DNA techniques, in which Dr. Efstratiadis is a pioneer, are necessary to produce peptides in quantity. We feel, therefore, that this cooperation will be ultimately useful in all of our therapeutic areas of research.”

The agreement was approved unanimously by Columbia’s Science and Technology Policy Committee, composed of members of the university’s administration and faculty. The committee reviews all proposed agreements between the University and the private sector.

“This agreement demonstrates that private industry will fund basic laboratory research in which commercially valuable developments are expected only after extended periods of investigation,” said Dr. Robert Goldberger, provost of Columbia.

Dr. Efstratiadis, who joined Columbia’s faculty in June of 1982, was the first to synthesize and clone complementary DNA copies of specific types of messenger RNA. This work permitted the development of techniques important in the identification and isolation of genes in the chromosomes.

He also co-authored a study of gene evolution based on DNA sequence information, and was a member of the team that constructed for the first time a bacterium synthesizing rat insulin.

“The interest of my laboratory,” Dr Efstratiadis said, “focuses exclusively on basic research. We are currently trying to understand the physical structure of DNA regions controlling the expression of globin and insulin genes.

“We are also studying the mechanism by which one of the two insulin genes in the rat jumped during evolution from its initial position to a new location on the chromosome. Another project involves experiments toward the understanding of the maturation process of the initial RNS copies produced from split genes,” he said.

“Finally, we have plans to continue preliminary work on the genetic aspect of juvenile diabetes at the molecular level,” he said.

“Our projects are supported by federal grants, but we need a wider financial basis to expand our experimentation, which is extremely expensive,” he added.

Dr. Efstratiadis received an M.D. in 1966 and a Dr. Med. Sci. in 1971, both from the University of Athens, and a Ph.D. in biology in 1976 from Harvard University. He had been on the Harvard faculty from 1976 until he joined Columbia last year. In 1980, Dr. Efstratiadis received a three-year Career Development Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He is a member of the editorial board of DNA—A Journal of Molecular Biology.

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