Ross MBAs help map out drug discovery strategy for U-M

Posted on: Tue, 2015-05-19 13:08   By: Ian Demsky

Photo of MAP students with faculty members.

ANN ARBOR — When the presentation ended, members of the audience said they had a hard time believing that just a few weeks earlier, the four MBA students knew very little about the drug discovery process.
The report was the culmination of a Multidisciplinary Action Project, or MAP, during which the students from the Ross School of Business partnered with the University of Michigan Center for the Discovery of New Medicines to evaluate the current landscape for academic drug discovery, and to propose a strategic roadmap for the center’s success.
To do this, the MAP students spent seven weeks interviewing academic scientists, industry leaders and venture capitalists, and delving into dozens of business reports and journal articles to understand what other institutions are doing, how the realm of drug discovery is changing, and what it all means for U-M. Their research took them to Boston and the Bay Area — both nexuses for the biopharma industry.
“As the productivity of R&D has declined, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly turning to universities to find promising prospects,” said student Marianna Kerppola.
However, noted fellow MAP student Neha Koul, “We found there are no perfect models. All of the top institutions are experimenting with different funding and staffing models to find what will work.”

MAP students at work in their temporary office at the LSI.

At the end of April, the students presented their findings to an audience that included representatives from other university units involved in drug discovery and commercialization efforts: Michigan Institute of Clinical and Health Research, the Office of Technology Transfer, and Fast Forward Medical Innovation.

“The students’ presentation was really well received and has sparked some good campus-wide conversations. They pointed out a number of opportunities that could help the U-M position itself as one of the top institutions in the country for academic drug discovery,” said Vincent Groppi, Ph.D., director of the CDNM.

The center was founded in 2012 to identify, fund and mentor drug discovery projects across the U-M campus; it is supported by funding from the Office of the Provost, the College of Pharmacy, the Life Sciences Institute, the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Department of Internal Medicine, the Department of Pathology, and the Endowment for the Basic Sciences in the Medical School.

The MAP students’ top recommendations for the CDNM include the introduction of dedicated research navigators to guide investigators through each stage of the process and to provide high-level coordination of resources; the appointment of an industry alliance manager to connect promising projects with private sector partners; and the introduction of an educational curriculum to provide technical guidance and peer-learning opportunities for projects funded by the center. A business plan with sustainable funding was also a key part of the report.

“We want the CDNM to serve as a scientific hub for drug discovery at U-M,” said Groppi. “Our primary goal is to help researchers generate the data needed to rapidly and efficiently make go-no-go decisions regarding advancement of their projects towards clinical development and commercialization. We provide investigators with up to $50,000 in seed funding to use in core labs at the Life Sciences Institute and College of Pharmacy to answer the those questions.”

MAP student Patrick Camalo researching drug discovery.

MAP student Ichiro Hashimoto noted that it’s important for academic centers to focus on their key strengths — disease expertise and identification of new potential therapeutic approaches.

It’s also critical, the students pointed out, for researchers across the university to understand what resources are available to them on campus.

A survey the students conducted found that nearly half of the bio-science researchers at U-M did not know about the CDNM. Yet 65 percent of respondents supported increased funding for interdisciplinary centers, like CDNM, and for the technology-based laboratories, or “cores,” at the heart of the CDNM-model.

“When it comes to a sustainable funding model, it’s important that the university take a long view,” student Patrick Camalo added. “Drug discovery takes a long time. Projects that are just getting started now may not bring revenue back to U-M for a decade or more.”

Learn More:

Center for the Discovery of New Medicines:

Ross MAP Program: