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Ann Arbor Spark

May 28, 2020

Deerfield commits up to $130M to commercialize drug discovery at the University of Michigan

A new partnership between the University of Michigan and health care investment firm Deerfield Management Co. will create a company to commercialize therapeutic projects that hold promise in solving unmet medical needs.

U-M and Deerfield on Wednesday announced the launch of Great Lakes Discoveries LLC. Deerfield has committed up to $130 million over the next decade to invest in biomedical research at U-M with the aim of developing potentially life-saving drugs and disease treatments.

“The University of Michigan has a strong legacy of drug discovery and translation,” said Rebecca Cunningham, U-M vice president for research. “This new alliance will allow us to advance these discovery and translational efforts, speeding our path to positive impact.”

As part of the alliance, Deerfield will deliver development expertise to help shepherd potential cutting-edge treatments in high-need therapeutic areas, as well as for rare diseases, with the objective of delivering more effective treatments to market. All preclinical stages of drug discovery and development of selected projects will be supported by Great Lakes Discoveries.

“We recognize that scientists at preeminent academic research institutions like the University of Michigan provide much of the novel insights that advance our understanding of disease,” said William Slattery, Deerfield partner. “However, at any research institution, the most commercially promising innovations eventually outgrow the lab, requiring greater resources and more focused development expertise than an academic setting can typically provide. We’re excited to have the University of Michigan join us in this important initiative.”

Starting this fall, U-M researchers will have the ability to submit proposals for review by a Great Lakes committee composed of scientific leadership representing both the university and Deerfield.

“We are excited to be able to collaborate with Deerfield in a way that will catalyze our translational research efforts by supporting preclinical and commercial clinical development of U-M therapeutics to improve patient care by developing transformative new therapeutics,” said Marschall Runge, dean of the U-M Medical School and executive vice president for medical affairs.

Projects selected by the committee will be provided funding and operational support by Deerfield for a development plan aimed at achieving Investigational New Drug (IND) readiness. Successful projects that achieve IND-enabled status may be eligible for additional capital from Deerfield. Great Lakes Discovery, in exchange for funding, would receive an option to license intellectual property that is developed at U-M under this agreement.

Kelly Sexton, U-M associate vice president for research-technology transfer and innovation partnerships, whose office will be overseeing the Deerfield alliance, said this new source of funding will be instrumental in helping advance drug candidates toward impact.

“The University of Michigan has one of the most massive academic therapeutic pipelines in the world, with 14 drug candidates currently in various stages of clinical trials and over 130 preclinical drug discovery, drug repurposing and novel drug target validation programs underway in our labs across campus,” Sexton said. “This funding will help us to realize the promise of this pipeline.”

Roger Cone, director of the U-M Life Sciences Institute and vice provost for the Biosciences Initiative, said the alliance complements U-M’s existing translational infrastructure.

“The University of Michigan has invested extensively in creating a world-class drug discovery machinery. This new alliance will complement and accelerate our efforts,” he said.

U-M alumnus James Flynn, managing partner at Deerfield and member of the U-M Life Sciences Institute’s Leadership Council, said “the current health crisis is a painful reminder to never become complacent in our fight against disease.”

“Part of this involves continuously identifying the most important early-stage research and ensuring its advancement in a timely way and without unnecessary barriers,” he said. “I’m confident that the University of Michigan shares this goal, as we join forces to catalyze the development of novel therapeutics and save lives. With its vast research platform, the University of Michigan is the ideal partner and we look forward to the innovations that we expect this alliance will bring.”

Ann Arbor SPARK values its strong partnership with the Office of Tech Transfer and Kelly Sexton is a member of SPARK’s board of directors.