A new partnership between Stanford and one of the world’s oldest and largest drug makers, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., could help speed up the process of bringing drugs from discovery to market.

The search for new drugs to treat cancer, diabetes, depression and many other diseases often starts with basic research and scientists working to understand the fundamentals of our bodies’ chemistry. That work can – eventually – lead to patents, research papers and licensing agreements. Even then, it takes time for those steps to produce actual medicines, let alone experimental trials or FDA approval to market the drug.

Now, the Stanford Alliance for Innovative Medicines, or Stanford AIM, will bring Stanford and Takeda scientists into close collaboration to share ideas, knowhow  and technical acumen. AIM expects to begin taking proposals from Stanford labs starting in October and finalize its first run of projects by early next year.

“Stanford AIM’s purpose is to accelerate the translation of Stanford’s cutting-edge discoveries into real treatments for human disease,” said Chaitan Khosla, a professor of chemistry and chemical engineering and director of Stanford ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering, and Medicine for Human Health), which will oversee the program.

Drug discovery often starts when academic scientists make a basic health-related discovery – a new biochemical pathway related to cancer, for example. Then, researchers file for a patent, publish their findings and work out licensing agreements. Only then do drug companies begin the work of optimizing a compound’s treatment potential, safety and manufacturing efficiency – work that in the end may or may not yield a useful drug.

The division of labor makes sense in a way – scientists want to answer basic questions surrounding the chemistry of life processes, while drug makers want to figure out how to produce the most effective treatment – but it also slows things down. By encouraging academic and industry scientists to work more closely together, the new alliance hopes to identify promising new drugs sooner and with fewer false starts, Khosla said.

“Through the expertise and in-kind support from Takeda, Stanford faculty members will develop a more complete picture of how their fundamental discoveries might impact human health,” Khosla said. “The collaboration also ‘de-risks’ projects born at Stanford, making it much easier to license them out for further development.” In addition, “Takeda chemists will participate in cutting-edge research at one of the nation’s top research universities,” Khosla noted.

Stanford Vice Provost and Dean of Research Ann Arvin said that Takeda makes an ideal partner. “By bringing industry scientists together with Stanford’s interdisciplinary teams of chemists, engineers, biologists and clinicians, Stanford AIM will accelerate the development of next-generation drugs and other therapeutics to combat the world’s most serious diseases,” she said.

Stanford will retain all intellectual property from Stanford AIM-supported research.

“Takeda’s alliance with Stanford demonstrates our commitment to advancing medicines as quickly and efficiently as possible – from drug discovery to development and ultimately to patients,” said Juan Harrison, ‎vice president and head of strategic academic alliances, Center for External Innovation, Takeda. “We look forward to combining the intellectual capital of Takeda and Stanford scientists, motivating both to come together as peers, in order to deliver medicines that represent real and meaningful benefits for patients.”

Media Contacts

Nathan Collins, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-9364, nac@stanford.edu