University Hospitals touts new $250M drug development model

Don’t tell University Hospitals that the valley of death doesn’t exist for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies

The Cleveland-area health system has launched a new $250 million project that it’s touting as something that could become a national model for developing promising drugs and bringing them to market.

The aim of the new Harrington Project for Discovery & Development is to advance drug candidates through the  period that runs from late animal testing to mid-clinical development in which companies find it difficult to attract funding to keep the drug development process going.

During this period, federal grants to fund early research often have run out, but drug candidates are still too early in the development process (and seen as too risky) for pharmaceutical companies or venture capitalists to invest in. The effect is that lots of discoveries are abandoned, with no one willing to take on the risk and expense associated with further drug development work.


“There’s a big problem in drug development with the valley of death,” said Dr. Jonathan Stamler, the newly named director of the UH Harrington Discovery Institute.

UH’s new model has two major components: The first is a program called Harrington Scholars that will provide funding, support and mentorship to physician-scientists from around the country who are in the midst of developing promising drugs that would typically be abandoned by the private market. The second is a for-profit company that’s designed to move drugs forward through the commercialization process, Stamler said.

UH is assembling an advisory team to select the initial 10 physician-scientists to participate in the Harrington Scholars program. Physicians who participate in the program will receive funding in two-year intervals.

Stamler declined to provide a range of dollar amounts that the funding would fall into. In the initial stages, there are no particular therapeutic areas that are preferred over others.

“We’ll fund virtually anything that we think can impact in an important way the drug development process and lead to new cures,” he said.

UH is looking to collaborate with physician-scientists from major academic medical centers throughout the country.

Details of the for-profit company are expected to be announced later this year. The company’s aim will be to attract industry and financial partners to help drugs developed by Harrington Scholars get to market.

UH would receive royalties on any sales of any drugs commercialized through the program, Stamler said.

The Harrington initiative gets its name from the family of Ron and Nancy Harrington, whose $50 million donation will support the initiative. The donation is the largest ever in UH’s history. The Harrington family founded Edgepark Medical, a medical supplies company that was sold for $850 million in 2010.

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