Sigma-Aldrich, The Scripps Research Institute Translating Research into Commercial Applications

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New partnership aims to eliminate months from the typical transition time required to move chemistry from the laboratory into commercial applications.

Both academic investigators and pharmaceutical industry researchers can become quite frustrated with the lengthy delays in getting novel compounds and synthetic methods out of the university laboratory and into commercial use due to legal and licensing barriers that currently impede the transfer of new technology. The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and Sigma-Aldrich have formed an alliance to address that problem by hastening other scientists’ ability to make new types of drugs and traverse what the National Institutes of Health calls “the valley of death” that separates theories from therapeutics (1).

The collaboration with Sigma-Aldrich is the third major deal in TSRI’s new targeted partnership strategy, following recent agreements with Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb. “These multi-lab, multi-year alliances fund research and infrastructure in areas of mutual interest, creating a win-win situation for moving innovations into the marketplace,” notes Scott Forrest, vice-president of business development at TSRI.

In the latest version, Nobel Laureate K. Barry Sharpless, Phil Baran, Jin-Quan Yu, Benjamin Cravatt, Carlos Barbas, and Phillip Dawson at TSRI formed a first-of-its-kind partnership with Sigma-Aldrich to speed up the adoption of technologies developed by these researchers for the synthesis of new drug molecules, according to Amanda Halford, vice- president of academic research business at Sigma Aldrich. According to this partnership, Sigma-Aldrich will commercialize new chemical reagents and methods developed by TSRI exclusively via a master licensing agreement. Halford spoke with Cynthia Challener, editor of the Pharmaceutical Sciences, Manufacturing & Marketplace Report, about the new partnership and its significance for the pharmaceutical industry.

A matter of timingPharmaceutical Sciences, Manufacturing and Marketplace Report: Why is it such a challenge to get newly discovered reagents commercialized and available to researchers?

Halford (Sigma Aldrich): The challenge is not necessarily getting newly discovered reagents commercialized, but rather a question of timing, and particularly coordination of the commercialization process of the innovative reagent so that it coincides with the public disclosure of the reagent. Most companies learn about a reagent either after a scientific presentation or after it has been published in a journal, which has long been considered the starting point for the commercialization process, resulting in a commercial reagent that lags its invention by 6-12 months. We believe this approach is not fast enough for our customers, and thus are attempting to change this strategy. The partnership with TSRI should significantly increase access to new reagents by both chemists and other scientists that do not have a background in chemical synthesis and improve their ability to use novel reagents in their research.


Addressing key scientific growth areasPharmaceutical Sciences, Manufacturing and Marketplace Report: What led Sigma-Aldrich to pursue such a relationship with an academic institution?

Halford (Sigma Aldrich): There are many institutions around the world pushing the scientific boundaries by developing innovative reagents. Sigma-Aldrich is working with most of these institutions in some capacity or another by licensing single reagents or technologies. For sponsored research partnerships, however, we have identified key scientific growth areas and aligned with the key principle investigators in these areas to bring new and innovative reagents to the market. We continue to seek these partnerships in order to complement and augment our existing relationships.

Successful proof-of-conceptPharmaceutical Sciences, Manufacturing and Marketplace Report: What was the genesis of the idea for such a partnership between TSRI and Sigma Aldrich?

Halford (Sigma Aldrich): Late in 2012, Scripps [TSRI] and Sigma-Aldrich began discussions about forming a collaboration to develop a faster, more efficient route to commercialize the innovative reagents developed by some of Scripps’ principal investigators. To explore the feasibility of such a partnership, Professor Phil Baran and Sigma-Aldrich commercialized the Baran zinc sulfinate reagents so that they would be available at the time of publication. The successful outcome of this proof-of-concept study and the overwhelmingly positive response from our customers led to the current agreement.

Open lines of communication Pharmaceutical Sciences, Manufacturing and Marketplace Report: In general, how is this partnership between TSRI and Sigma-Aldrich designed to overcome the barriers that exist today?

Halford (Sigma Aldrich): Visibility during the invention phase allows for coordination of commercialization and disclosure. Working closely with the inventors to understand development progress and having open lines of communication enables Sigma-Aldrich to put into place the operational, marketing, and sales infrastructure required to launch a new product the same day it is publicly disclosed. Notably, publications of new reagents developed in these six TSRI labs will include a Sigma-Aldrich product number for simple reference.

Pharmaceutical Sciences, Manufacturing and Marketplace Report: How exactly will this partnership between TSRI and Sigma-Aldrich work?

Halford (Sigma Aldrich): Sigma-Aldrich will have regular meetings with the team of Scripps[TSRI] researchers during which the researchers will provide updates on the development of new reagents. From these meetings, Sigma-Aldrich will generate a product launch timeline and coordinate with the faculty to have the reagents ready to commercialize when the peer-reviewed manuscript is published live on the web. Funding is designed to enable the successful outcome of the collaboration under mutually agreed upon terms.

Expectation of diversityPharmaceutical Sciences, Manufacturing and Marketplace Report: The interests of these six TSRI groups are quite varied. What types of reagents do you anticipate developing through this partnership?

Halford (Sigma Aldrich): Yes, indeed the research interests of the six groups are diverse, and in fact are aligned nicely with the key initiatives at Sigma-Aldrich. The reagents developed by these labs may include: C–H activation ligands, C–H activation reagents, fluorination reagents, inhibitor probes, interaction probes, linkers for peptide ligation, zinc finger nucleases, conjugation and crosslinking reagents, and a new click platform.

(1) E. M. Meslin, et al., Clin. Transl. Med. 2 (14), online, doi: 10.1186/2001-1326-2-14, July 27, 2013.