Novartis AG Launches R&D Center on UC Berkeley's Campus to Tackle 'Undruggable' Diseases

Novartis AG Launches R&D Center on UC Berkeley's Campus to Tackle 'Undruggable' Diseases September 28, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Basel, Switzerland – Novartis , working with the University of California, Berkeley, will create a collaboration called the Novartis-Berkeley Center for Proteomics and Chemistry Technologies. Although no financial details have been released, the Center will be in existing Berkeley laboratories and provide support for joint research projects.

The focus of the collaboration is on drug targets that have previously been considered “undruggable.” It will utilize covalent chemoproteomics technology, which is says “rapidly maps locations on protein targets.” Proteomics is the study of proteins. There are about 20,000 unique proteins in the human body.

“Never before have we been able to explore what we call the proteome, the totality of over 20,000 proteins in the body, with such breadth, depth and speed,” said Daniel Nomura, director of the Center and associate professor of Chemistry, of Molecular and Cell Biology, and of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at Berkeley, in a statement. “Combining technology advances in proteomics and chemistry allows us to imagine creating compounds to bind every known protein in the body, especially those underlying serious diseases such as cancer.”

Specifically, the Center will focus on what are called degraders. This involves bifunctional molecules that bind to disease targets on one end of the molecule and on the other end bind to a component in a cell’s protein-disposal system. The researchers plan to evaluate whether the covalent chemoproteomics technology can help cut the time needed to create potential degraders.

“Traditional drug compounds bind to proteins at places that cause them to malfunction, but many disease targets lack these functional binding locations,” said John Tallarico, head of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics at the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR), in a statement. “Degraders are different because they can bind to disease targets at non-functional sites and trigger the destruction of the target proteins, resulting in the interference of their function.”

Novartis in the past has had a lot of success with academic collaborations. Twenty years ago, Novartis worked with researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University to develop Gleevec, its top-selling blood cancer drug. And just last month, Novartis’s Kymriah was approved. Kymriah was developed with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania

Reuters notes, “Drug companies have big incentives to improve drug discovery efforts. Returns on R&D investment at the top o12 drug companies were just 3.7 percent in 2016, down from 10.1 percent in 2010, consultancy Deloitte has said. Research costs are rising as insurers ratchet up price pressure. Meanwhile, old drugs like Gleevec have lost patent protection, elevating Novartis’s urgency to find new medicines to rejuvenate sales not expected to grow until next year.”

“Novartis pioneers new therapeutic paradigms, creating definitive medicines for life-threatening diseases,” said Jay Bradner, president of the NIBR, in a statement. “Our Berkeley alliance powerfully extends our ability to advance discovery of molecules aimed at the historically inaccessible drug targets.”

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