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July 25, 2005
The Check Shows Up in the Mail. Really.
In the drug industry, we tend to look down a bit at academia's attempts at pharmaceutical research. We don't go out of our way to hire people with university degrees in medicinal chemistry, for example, which you'd think would be a perfect fit. (Here's why.) And we're always insinuating that the professoriat just doesn't understand what it takes to develop a drug, and what kind of timelines have to be met. I've made a number of comments like that here, and I'll surely make some more.
But I have to admit that it's not always true. There are a few drugs that have come out of academic research, although in all the cases I'm aware of, much of the expensive heavy lifting was done after signing a deal with a pharma or biotech company. (Scroll down to the September 2004 posts herefor more ranting than you may need on the "all drugs come from academic research anyway, right?" position.)
One notable success story has been the antiretroviral Emtriva (emtricitabine), a nucleoside mimic that acts as a reverse transcriptase inhibitor. It was discovered in a longstanding program to find new antiviral agents at Emory, with the chemistry coming from Prof. Dennis Liotta and his group. (Personal disclosure: I nearly went to Emory for grad school to work in Liotta's group, and was strongly considering doing a post-doc with him afterwards. And I've attended his Gulf Coast Chemistry Conference a couple of times as well.)
I mention all these connections, I guess, because word comes now that Emory has cut a deal cashing in all future royalties for a record-setting $525 million dollars. They're selling 65% of the royalty stream to Gilead, the company that markets Emtriva (the orginal deal was done with Triangle Pharmaceutical, a firm of Burroughs Wellcome refugees later bought by Gilead), and 35% to VC firm Royalty Pharma. And the deal provides that the University itself gets 60% of that, with the rest to be split between Liotta, Raymond Shinazi (on the medical side), and former Emory researcher Woo-Baeg-Choi.
That is 210 million dollars to be split between the three of them. My heartiest congratulations, from down here on the floor where I'm fanning myself. I can tell you that if I come up with a winning drug here in industry, I'll likely get promoted, and may well even see a bonus. But I will most definitely not see any seventy million dollars. Maybe this academic model for drug discovery has something to it after all. . .
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