Three top-tier New York City research powerhouses have launched a research institute created to translate early-stage research into quicker clinical development of new drugs and diagnostics, and quickly announced its first partnership, with Takeda Pharmaceutical.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Rockefeller University, and Weill Cornell Medical College have formed the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute (Tri-I TDI). The institute seeks to speed up early stages of developing compounds for a variety of indications ranging from infectious disease to orphan diseases, and more common disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, HIV, heart disease, and obesity.

Tri-I TDI said it will pool resources from its member institutions to facilitate translation, focusing initially on small molecule compounds and progressing later to biological therapies and molecular imaging.

The Takeda partnership will focus on developing small chemical molecules, with medicinal chemists and pharmacologists from Takeda set to join investigators from the institutions in carrying out research in the institute’s laboratories. The institute will locate its medicinal chemistry activities on the top floor of the new Belfer Research Building at Weill Cornell, which is scheduled to open in January.

The independent, nonprofit institute will select research projects deemed to hold the greatest scientific promise. Each scientist’s home institution will retain its intellectual property, though the institute will seek to create its own IP that can be further developed by collaborations with additional industry partners. To that end, the institute said, it may license out candidate drugs for later phases of drug development. Clinical trials arising from such partnerships may occasionally be run at the three institutions’ clinical and translational science centers and clinical trial offices.

Tri-I TDI was founded with gifts of $15 million by Lewis and Ali Sanders, and $5 million by Howard and Abby Milstein, and additionally funded through philanthropy and direct contributions from MSKCC, Rockefeller, and Weill Cornell. The institute will be governed by a board of directors and appoint its own scientific advisory board.

“This exciting collaboration between academic institutions will also serve as a link between institutional researchers and industry experts in medicinal chemistry, compound screening, and drug development,” Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D., president of the Rockefeller University, said in a statement. “It’s a partnership that will help lower barriers in the drug discovery process and ultimately lead to new therapies for some of our most difficult and deadly diseases.”

The new institute will also carry out two researcher support efforts. The Sanders Innovation and Education Initiative will support recruitment of a soon-to-be named Sanders Director for Tri-I TDI—as well as provide organizational infrastructure, project management, director salary support, education for young investigators, and in-lab support of faculty.

Also, the Abby and Howard P. Milstein Program in Medicinal Chemistry will support recruitment of medicinal chemists, computational chemists, and molecular modelers with private-sector experience. The recruits are expected to apply their expertise toward compounds that the institute hopes will be adopted by pharma companies for further development. The Milstein program builds upon drug discovery initiatives established in 2005 with the founding at Weill Cornell of the Abby and Howard P. Milstein Chemistry Core Facility and the Abby and Howard P. Milstein Program in Chemical Biology of Infectious Disease. 

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