“Entrepreneurship: Drug Discovery Innovation at Start-Up, Small, and Medium-Sized Biotechnology Companies”: A Bentham-Sponsored Symposium


"Bentham Science Publishers sponsored the symposium “Entrepreneurship: Drug Discovery Innovation at Start-Up, Small, and Medium-Sized Biotechnology Companies” at The 244th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, hosted in their Division of Small Chemical Businesses, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA on August 21, 2012. Ten speakers covered the challenges and opportunities facing biomedical research today. As many of the larger pharmaceutical organizations are downsizing their drug discovery staff, more innovation in terms of the introduction of new molecular entities into therapy is coming from smaller organizations, such as biotechnology companies and academic groups. The symposium was organized by Dr. Allen Reitz, Editor of Curr. Top. Med. Chem., and Dr. Matthew Honan, Bentham Science, was also in attendance. Drs. Pat Confalone and Allen Reitz presided over the session. In general the symposium was well attended, with >110 in the audience, and standing-room only at the peak times. A brief introduction of the 10 speakers and their topics follows. The slides and audio from the presentations will be available online at the American Chemical Society website in mid-September.


Dr. Dennis Liotta is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry at Emory University. Prof. Liotta received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from The City University of New York with Robert Engel and completed post-doctoral training at The Ohio State University under Leo A. Paquette. Dr. Liotta has been a faculty member at Emory University since 1976, where he has received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, the Emory University Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award, and the Thomas Jefferson Award, this highest award given at Emory. Dr. Liotta is currently the Executive Director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development, as well as the co-director of the Republic of South Africa Drug Discovery Training Program. He also serves as Editor-in-Chief of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. He was recently inducted into the Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame. His other awards include the 2012 IP Legend Award and the Biomedical Industry Growth Award, given by the Georgia Biomedical Partnership. While at Emory, Dr. Liotta has authored >230 research publications and >70 issued US patents. In addition, he is the inventor of several clinically important agents, including FTC (Emtriva®), 3TC (Epivir®), Reverset®, Racivir®, Elvucitabine® and MSX-122. Dr. Liotta spoke on “DRIVE: An Innovative Non-Profit Drug Discovery Company” which promotes drug discovery research not at a major company, but in the non-profit world.


Dr. Allen Reitz received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, San Diego with Murray Goodman and an M. S. degree in the Management of Technology from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School and Penn Engineering. He was with Johnson & Johnson in Spring House, PA for nearly 26 years, as a Senior Research Fellow and CNS, Analgesics and Fragment-Based Drug Discovery Team Leader. He has >135 publications, is an inventor on 48 U.S. patents, and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry. He is also Adj. Professor at the Drexel University, School of Medicine. Dr. Reitz is the founder and CEO of two biopharmaceutical companies located at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in Doylestown, PA which have raised >$6 Million for early-stage research, and is a co-founder and President of the Pennsylvania Drug Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization which promotes entrepreneurial activities within the region. Dr. Reitz reviewed the challenges and opportunities in biomedical research. Although the rate of drug discovery introductions are down on average compared to the 1990ss, last year (fiscal year 2011), the U.S. FDA approved 35 new drugs, the second highest annual total during the past decade.


Dr. Bill Kinney received his Ph.D. at Ohio State University with Leo Paquette, and began his industrial career in the CNS group at Wyeth where he invented the cyclobutenedione-containing NMDA antagonist perzinfotel that progressed to Phase II clinical trials for pain. At Magainin Pharmaceuticals, he directed projects on trodusquemine (Phase II, obesity) and squalamine (Phase II, eye disease), two shark-derived natural products. In 2000, he joined Johnson & Johnson, where he pursued peptide-mimetic integrin antagonists and urotensin-II receptor modulators for cardiovascular indications. Currently, Dr. Kinney is Founder and Director of Chemistry at IteraMed and faculty member within the Institute for Hepatitis and Virus Research (IHVR). He led and coordinated the donation of the former Merck Research Laboratories Natural Product Collection to the IHVR. His scientific contributions include 70 publications, and inventorship on 36 issued U.S. patents. This collection represents the legacy natural products libraries of both Merck and Schering Plough, and is now offered for use in collaborations with academic and industrial research groups.


Dr. Christopher Burns is Co-Founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer of VenatoRx Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a Pennsylvania start-up company focused on discovery and development of new antibiotics for resistant infections. Prior to founding VenatoRx, Dr. Burns served from 2004-2010 as Vice President of Research at Protez Pharmaceuticals, an antibacterial start-up company acquired by Novartis in a deal valued at $400 million. Prior to Protez/Novartis he served as Director of Chemistry at ViroPharma and as Chemistry Director at Aventis. During his 12 years at Aventis, Dr. Burns led multidisciplinary teams in bone metabolism, cardiovascular disease (in the U.S.), and oncology (in France). Dr. Burns has appeared as co-author or co-inventor >50 patents and publications. He received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry in 1989 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Nobel-laureate Barry Sharpless. Dr. Burns described how his company has been able to become fully operational using support from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant program in the U.S.


Mr. Patrick Dentinger is the President and CEO of Absorption Systems, which represents a regional successful story in entrepreneurship. Patrick Dentinger’s vision started with the idea that developing research tools to better predict clinical outcomes can accelerate the discovery and development of new drugs and therapies. At the time he co-founded Absorption Systems, most CROs were based on a “me too” model. Sixteen years later, Absorption Systems is known as a global leader in the life sciences industry serving over 250 different customers around the world. Currently Absorption Systems has over 120 employees located in its facilities in Exton, Pa., San Diego, Ca. and Panama City, Panama. Patrick’s vision and commitment to innovate biomedical research is the lifeline of the company. Patrick has positioned Absorption Systems as one of the industry's leading authorities on how the human body reacts to experimental therapies. He gave an inspiring talk about taking risks and entrepreneurship in general.


Dr. Pat Confalone is a graduate of M.I.T. with a B.S. in Chemistry, and obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard with Nobel-laureate R. B. Woodward. After 10 years at Hoffmann-La Roche, he joined Dupont Life Sciences where his Bioorganic Chemistry group developed the fluorescent dye-labeled reagents that were used in automated DNA sequencing, eventually employed in the human genome project. Dr. Confalone served as Director of Medicinal Chemistry and Senior Vice President of Chemical Process R&D at Dupont Merck, where he recruited the world class Medicinal Chemistry department which discovered Cozaar, a major anti-hypertensive based on angiotensin II antagonism. After 21 years in Discovery Research, he moved into pre-clinical development and built a highly successful Chemical Process R&D organization which carried out the chemical development of Cozaar and Sustiva, a highly successful NNRTI used to treat AIDS. Dr. Confalone has >130 papers and obtained >40 U.S. Patents. Dr. Confalone was Chairman of Natural Products Gordon Conference, and elected Chair of the Organic Division of the ACS on Chemistry and Public Affairs. He has received the Alpha Chi Sigma Award and the Harvard Graduate Society Prize, and the Harvard Society of Fellows. Finally, Pat was a member of the so-called ACS “Whitesides Committee” on entrepreneurship, which produced an influential report and set of recommendations in this area. He reviewed the findings of this committee and summarized resources available from the ACS to aspiring entrepreneurs.


Barbara Schilberg, J.D. is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of BioAdvance, the biotechnology greenhouse of southeastern Pennsylvania which provides advice and investment support for early stage biomedical research opportunities. She has >25 years of experience working with academic technologies and start-up companies in the life sciences sector. She received a J.D. degree from the Univ. of Virginia, and was a partner in the Philadelphia office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Her practice supported a wide range of industry activities, including venture capital financings, IPOs and other public offerings, marketing, co-development and joint-venture arrangements, sponsored research, and technology transfer. She went on subsequently to a distinguished career as Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Cephalon, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Incara Pharmaceuticals, and Vice President and General Counsel at Locus Discovery, Inc. BioAdvance manages an evergreen biotechnology fund, which she described in detail. Her organization provides advice and makes investments in the area of start-up research operations in the southeastern Pennsylvania region.


Dr. Donna Marie De Carolis obtained her doctorate in Business at Temple University. She is Associate Dean of LeBow College of Business, Drexel University. In her role as Associate Dean, Dr. De Carolis is responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of the Centers of Excellence at Drexel University's LeBow College of Business. In addition, she is responsible for the development of synergistic programs and initiatives within LeBow College, other colleges at Drexel University, and with the business community at large. Dr. De Carolis has researched, written and lectured extensively on various aspects of entrepreneurship, technology management and technology commercialization. Her areas of expertise are entrepreneurship and new venture creation, technology commercialization, strategic alliances, and social capital. She also serves as a featured weekly business commentator on CBS News Radio - KYW Philadelphia. Dr. De Carolis discussed her findings on how Technology Transfer Offices at universities work in reality, providing guidelines as to different models of operation and best practices.


Dr. Rathnam Chaguturu is the Senior Director-Exploratory Research, and Deputy Site Head at the Center for Advanced Drug Research at SRI International in Harrisonburg, VA. He joined Rutgers University in 1976 as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, and later worked at Dow Chemical, where he instituted the first principles of chemical library screening for new lead discovery, and developed tools for mining in-house chemical libraries. He then moved to FMC where for 22 years he led discovery research efforts focused on ion channel, receptor, enzyme and cell-based targets, and was instrumental in designing the industry-first Zymark robotic screening platform. Dr. Chaguturu joined Sierra Sciences as Director of Drug Discovery in 2006. He has >45 research publications, and holds 11 U.S. patents. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Combinatorial Chemistry and High Throughput Screening, and is the Founding President of the International Chemical Biology Society. Dr. Chaguturu reviewed the very extensive contributions of SRI in the area of technology development.


Dr. Neal Simon received a B.A. with honors from the State University of New York at Binghamton, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Rutgers University, and was a National Research Service Postdoctoral Fellow at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Dr. Simon is co-Founder and CEO of Azevan Pharmaceuticals, a clinical stage drug development company in Bethlehem, PA. Dr. Simon brings 20 years of management experience and 30 years of research experience in neurobiology and drug development to the company. His research program and corporate activities have been supported by private venture capital groups, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA, and the H.F. Guggenheim Foundation. Previously, Dr. Simon was the founding Chairman of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University and led the department from 1995-2006. Dr. Simon discussed the very interesting Azevan story, which involves risk-taking, proof of concept product development, and now transition into investment or partnering prior to further clinical evaluation.

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