Charles River Laboratories and Michael J. Fox Foundation Extend Collaboration
The Wilmington, Massachusetts-based contract research organization (CRO) Charles River Laboratories International extended its current collaboration with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF).
The two organizations have collaborated since 2011, focusing on projects related to Parkinson’s disease. This latest extension includes grants from MJFF in support of two projects. One of them is in vivo phenotyping of an alpha-synuclein knockout model and an alpha-synuclein A53T knockin model. Over the next two years, CRL will develop the model, which has the focus of providing tools to drive discovery programs for PD.
The other is the establishment and validation of a preclinical model to test LRRK2 kinase inhibitors. This is a renewal of a long-term project to advance efforts to test novel small molecule LRRK2 kinase inhibitors, which in people have been genetically linked to the development of PD.
“The Michael J. Fox Foundation is committed to advancing tools and preclinical models that speed Parkinson’s research toward urgently needed breakthroughs for patients,” said Nicole Polinski, associate director of Research Programs for MJFF, in a statement. “Charles River’s strong portfolio of early discovery services has made them a natural partner for us, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of these projects, which may have a significant impact on development of new treatments for the millions living with this disease.”
This is yet another example of how foundations are increasing investment in the biopharma industry. Recently, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google co-founder Larry Page pledged $12 million to research to develop a universal flu vaccine. The $12 million will be divided into $2 million grants for specific projects, and be doled out over a two-year period.
On May 1, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation awarded Durham, North Carolina-based Icagen up to $11 million for a multi-year drug discovery program designed to identify and develop treatments for individuals with cystic fibrosis who have nonsense mutations. The biotech company will use the funds to screen more than 2 million compounds, searching for their ability to override the premature stop signals caused by nonsense mutations so a full-length, functional protein can be made.
Although the foundations’ investments are philanthropic in nature, sometimes they have unexpected financial benefits. In 2000, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation began funding Vertex Pharmaceuticals. In November 2015, the foundation sold its royalty rights for Vertex’s CF drugs, including Kalydeco, for $3.3 billion.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards about $4 billion every year. In 2013, the foundation invested in Palo Alto, California-based Anacor Pharmaceuticals. In 2016, Pfizer acquired Anacor for $5.2 billion. In late 2015, the foundation sold off most of its holding in the company, keeping about one percent. The Gates Foundation’s stake, after the sale, was about $76.7 million, about 17 times its original $5 million investment.
Foundations aren’t necessarily expecting a financial return on investment, but don’t shy away from making it part of their investment model, even if it’s something of a rare return on investment. Deborah Brooks, co-founder and executive vice chairman of the Fox Foundation, told Fortune in 2015, “On our first day we might have thought we were in the business of funding science, but it didn’t take us long to realize that was too simplistic a goal: We’re trying to accelerate drug development. But we’re looking for a different ROI. If we were venture capitalists, then we probably wouldn’t be in Parkinson’s.”