CTA Couples With Major Pharmaceutical

August 18, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Core Technology Alliance has inked a deal with New Jersey-based Schering-Plough Corp. to assist in the drug discovery efforts of its research and development arm, the Schering-Plough Research Institute. Schering-Plough also intends to spread the work around by initiating pilot projects in early drug development with several of CTA’s nine members.

CTA is a collaborative network of fee-for-service laboratories affiliated with universities, private research institutes, and biotech or pharmaceutical firms that do research in the areas of genomics, proteomics, structural biology, animal models, bioinformatics, bio-imaging, high-throughput screening and antibody technology.

Among the labs that might be tapped by Schering-Plough for service are the High Throughput Screening Center at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, the Structural Biology Center at Michigan State University, the Proteome Consortium at the University Michigan and the Van Andel Institute.

“Our research combined with the integrated resources available through the CTA are advancing Michigan to the forefront in drug development,” said VAI chairman and CEO David Van Andel. “Schering-Plough’s collaboration with the CTA is a tremendous testament to Michigan’s effort to grow a biotech industry that can successfully compete in the global marketplace.”

CTA Executive Director M. Walid Qoronfleh said there is a general sense of excitement among alliance members.

“It’s one of the exciting things that is happening for the state of Michigan — the fact that an out-of-state pharma company chooses to outsource to the class facilities and cutting edge technologies that are represented by the Core Technology Alliance,” Qoronfleh said.

Schering-Plough spokeswoman Rose Marie Yancosek said she couldn’t elaborate on the number of pilot projects that might come this way, when they might begin launching or what areas of research they might focus on.

“The only thing I can really say is that we are partnering with them (CTA),” she said. “I can’t really expand beyond that.” 

Qoronfleh said Schering-Plough is now in the process of transitioning some of its pilot programs and some of them will be initiated in Michigan very shortly. He said CTA and Schering-Plough have been in discussions for months. He, too, declined to reveal the specific nature of the pilots.

“We respect the privacy of our client,” Qoronfleh said. “For competitive reasons, they would not want to announce the specific areas, but, in general, the projects are going to capitalize on the cutting edge areas in science. In some of these areas — for example, in structural biology — we have facilities that don’t exist in the rest of the country.”

Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Inc., said the Schering-Plough agreement with CTA stems from a lot of long, hard work by the VAI and all the players on Michigan Street Hill that have developed working relationships with one another over the years.

“It’s one of those things that has taken a lot of work but is finally coming to fruition,” Klohs said. “I think this agreement is extremely important; it’s the continued iteration that there really is something happening in the life sciences here and this is another manifestation of it. This builds on that momentum that was started when the institute was created. To me, it’s another step in our journey to diversification.”

Schering-Plough became interested in CTA’s member laboratories after licensing a medical software application called XenoBase from the Van Andel Research Institute. The software synthesizes medical research findings more quickly, thereby hastening the drug development process.

“As we worked together on the XenoBase agreement, it became clear to us that Schering-Plough could benefit from the type of core services available through the CTA,” explained George Vande Woude, director of the Van Andel Research Institute and one of the co-founders of the alliance.

XenoBase was the brainchild of scientific investigators Craig Webb, Ph.D., and Jeremy Miller, Ph.D., of the institute’s Laboratory of Tumor Metastasis and Angiogenesis. XenoBase is said to be the first biologic software application with the ability to integrate data from a number of sources all at once, including data from clinical trials, animal models, patient medical histories, and individual profiles of genes, chromosomes and proteins.

“We’ve basically condensed a process that used to take months, into minutes,” Webb told the Business Journal last October when the one-year licensing agreement with Schering-Plough was struck. He and Miller spent four years developing XenoBase.    

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