Tag Archives: industry

NIH signs PACT with big pharma to boost immunotherapy

On October 2017, the NIH announced a formal collaboration between the public and private sector as a new leap in the War On Cancer. The collaboration, termed PACT for “Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapeutics”, is a five-year project that will focus first on cancer biomarker identification & validation and then on developing novel immunotherapies. As Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, stated to the press, “we have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy… We need to bring that kind of success – and hope – for more people and more types of cancers, and we need to do it quickly.” He believes that this collaborative effort between the NIH and 11 heavyweight pharmaceutical companies (see below for complete list) will “help achieve this success faster.”

This new collaboration will allocate $215 million over the five years, with NIH contributing $160 million over 5 years (depending on availability of funds) and each pharma company contributing $1 million/year (totaling 55$ million over 5 years). The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), a congressionally established nonprofit, and the U.S. FDA will be supervising this partnership. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group found in 1958 to advocate for public policies that encourage drug discovery for patients, will also provide support for this initiative.

PACT seeks to identify why certain patients respond so dramatically to immunotherapy, as evidenced by the recent observations of near-complete eradication of pediatric lymphomas, and how such treatments can be expanded to a larger patient population and a wider range of tumors, especially solid tumors which have not had much success with immunotherapy despite a lot of initial promise. To that end, this program will first perform cancer biomarker discovery, validation and standardization and then integrate these biomarkers for patient recruitment into oncology trials for immunotherapy and combination trials. PACT also aims to embrace the data sharing aspect of collaboration to “better coordinate clinical efforts, align investigative approaches, reduce duplication and enable more high-quality trials to be conducted.”

As part of the Cancer Moonshot program and PACT collaboration, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently awarded cooperative agreements to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Stanford Cancer Institute, Precision Immunology Institute and the Tisch Cancer Institute to Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, and MD Anderson Cancer Center. These cancer centers will serve as Cancer Immune Monitoring and Analysis Centers (CIMACs) where tumors will be deep sequenced and immune profiled. The data obtained will be archived in a immune response biomarker database created at Dana Farber, which is slated to act as a Cancer Immunologic Data Center (CIDC). These cancer centers will form a network of laboratories that can support both basic research efforts and adult and pediatric immunotherapy trials.

Dr. Thomas Hudson, vice president of oncology discovery and early development at AbbVie, who represented the industry at the PACT press conference, stressed on the need for collaborative efforts to drive innovations in immunotherapy, despite the competitive nature of the field. Based on his prior experience in large scale public-private sector collaboratives, such as the International Cancer Genome Consortium, he believes that this collaboration will ultimately prove to be more fruitful than expected for all parties involved. Besides Abbvie, the other pharma partners include Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Celgene Corporation, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson), Novarits and Pfizer.


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ICYMI: Short course on Introduction to Drug Development

The fall semester is in full swing here at Tufts, and Dean Dan Jay’s mission to “train to career excellence” is already palpable. You may have noticed that you received an e-mail alerting you to new course offerings at Tufts this fall: a career coaching workshop that also includes one-on-one sessions with career strategist Sarah Cardozo Duncan (this took place on October 16, 2017) as well as a short, five-week course on drug development, led by Tufts alumnus and Agios Pharmaceuticals’ director of enzymology Stefan Gross, PhD.

As a “senior grad student” (don’t call me that to my face), the impending decisions of career paths are pressing on me. Since I had met Stefan at other Sackler events–he gave a DMCB seminar as well as judged our flash talk competition last spring–I knew he was a fantastic scientist and speaker. I jumped at the opportunity to learn from him first hand about the work he is involved in, and registered for his course on drug development. In this edition of “In Case You Missed It,” I’ll be sharing with you my experience at our first class. Perhaps it will inspire you to also take other career training courses that we anticipate will be offered in the coming semesters!

In this first class, Stefan talked about developing drugs for strategically selected diseases- for example, rare genetic diseases that are relatively uncommon but are actually prevalent enough for a substantial patient population (and ultimately drug consumer population) to exist. We reviewed a specific example that covered the series of experimental techniques performed toward developing treatments for an example of a category of rare genetic diseases, Congenital Disorders of Glycosylation (CDG). As the name CDG suggests, these conditions are due to defective glycosylation, the ubiquitously important process in which a carbohydrate is attached to a molecule to enable its structural or functional role. Glycosylation defects can occur at many different points of sugar production, and for every affected step in the pathway, there can be an associated disease. We learned about how to design an experiment to screen thousands of compounds that might rescue enzymatic activity of phosphomannomutase 2 (PMM2), a defective enzyme in a type of CDG. Moving forward, we also learned how to follow up on and validate hits from a screen and then progress those compounds through a drug development program.

Just from this first meeting, I can tell this course is unlike any other I have taken at Tufts (and as a one-time Immunology, now-CMDB student, trust me, I have taken many). The mix of graduate students and postdocs, as well as the presence of our Deans Dan and Dan, creates a new kind of diversity and range of experience that results in many thought provoking questions, comments, and discussions. I look forward to completing the class goals outlined by Stefan, which are to familiarize ourselves with the small molecule drug discovery process and current state-of-the-art concepts in drug discovery, and to conduct a company diligence exercise. Towards the first two goals, we will be learning about procedures carried out at industrial companies that often require resources graduate students like ourselves could only dream of, like simultaneously testing thousands of 96-well plates with tens of thousands of compounds in a screen. By thinking about science through a lens in which we are enabled with benefits like these, experiments can be designed in a completely different way. Furthermore, the third goal of the course, to conduct a company diligence exercise, is meant to prepare us for an interview at a biotech company, something that your microbial genetics course may not.

Keep an eye out for announcements for career-oriented course offerings in the future. These are great opportunities for those of us who may be interested in transitioning to a career in industry after grad school, and even for those who have other paths in mind but are still curious about the inner workings of industrial procedures!

Tufts Advisory Partners mean business

Guest Post by Jen Shih, writer for TBBC

From Left to Right (Alexandra Taracanova, Ji Kang, Christina Hao, Valerie Larriau, Maddy Das, Mike Pereria, Michaela Tolman, Farrah Roy, Wendi Ni, Mike Jager, Geoff Gonzalez
From Left to Right (Alexandra Taracanova, Ji Kang, Christina Hao, Valerie Larriau, Maddy Das, Mike Pereria, Michaela Tolman, Farrah Roy, Wendi Ni, Mike Jager, Geoff Gonzalez


April 2016: The excitement is palpable as the three co-founders sat around the table and planned out their first session as part of the inaugural Tufts Advisory Partners (TAP), a pro bono consulting group made up of Boston-area graduate students and postdocs. Alexandra Taracanova, Michaela Tolman, and Ji-Yong Kang were meeting to plan out their first engagement, or client relationship. They had selected a team of consultants, and now it was time to get to work. Tufts was about to be put on the map as an institution with high interests and talents for consulting and business development.

TAP was largely inspired by the sudden explosion in interest for the Case Study Group at Tufts. Students at Tufts, as well as institutions in the area, were becoming aware that career choice options were growing, make it an ideal time for TAP to emerge. Realizing the unmet need for hands-on opportunities in life sciences consulting, the founders of TAP got together in January 2016 and came up with a solution. TAP provides strategy services to biotechnology companies to develop their business. In working with a potential client, TAP will consult on how to set up the business, help them expand, or provide market research and due diligence. What makes this new consulting group unique is the ability to build an organization from the ground up, recruit clients, make their own rules, and pick projects to work on–in other words, they are essentially a fully functioning, autonomous firm that will provide a real product that will impact the biotechnology market. However, another integral goal in creating TAP was to connect enthusiastic and committed grad students and postdocs with the opportunity to use their talents.

For their first engagement, TAP selected a mid-sized medical devices company from several options. They planned to spend six weeks on the engagement, working with two teams. Of the three partners, Ms. Taracanova would work primarily with the client, and Ms. Tolman and Ms. Kang would each lead one of the teams as an engagement manager. Before the engagement began, and even before they could release the identity of the client, the eagerness and enthusiasm from the TAP partners was obvious. In particular, Ms. Taracanova was excited by the prospect of teamwork in the engagement teams and “seeing the two teams work together and move forward to deliver the end product.”

The team members for this first engagement hailed from three institutions: Tufts University, Boston University, and Harvard University. Throughout the engagement, team members collected information from key opinion leaders, analyzed the data, and presented recommendations on business strategy for the company. Both teams worked to develop market entry strategies for one of the company’s assets. As the members were from different institutions and departments, there was ample opportunity to network and get to know other students and postdocs who were interested in the consulting field. However, after completion of the engagement, it was clear that the team members first and foremost gained a valuable and rewarding experience. Christina Hao, a team member from Boston University, said of her experience: “I worked with TAP for six intense weeks on a consulting project, where I was able to gain hands on experience with solving business problems in a hypothesis-driven, structured manner, as well as honing my presentation and leadership skills.  The level of teamwork was incredible, and the engagement manager was very professional and genuinely cared about our learning goals.  TAP is hands down the most enriching, rigorous and fulfilling business experience I have experienced so far as a graduate student.” What was perhaps key to the consultants who participated in this engagement was the learning experience, and Michael Pereira, from Tufts University, reports that “as a first-time consultant, TAP exceeded all of my expectations. I learned more about the consulting profession in those six weeks than any number of books or classes could possibly teach me. It is an absolute must for anyone seeking a career in life sciences consulting!”

The team members were not the only people who had positive reviews for the first TAP engagement; the client, now revealed to be SteadMed Medical, also had encouraging comments. The CEO disclosed that “[he] was very pleased with the personal engagement and passion the entire team embraced throughout the project. The final report was clear, concise and supported with facts and data. [They were] excited to execute on the recommendations made.” The marketing manager of the company describes the TAP engagement with the following: “The quick uptake of our industry, its challenges, and our visions were outstanding.  From the first week, we felt there was a deep understanding of how to take our questions and deliver them back with tangible perceptions and directions for us to move forward.  At the next given opportunity, we will engage with TAP again to leverage their passion, knowledge, and ability to deliver promising direction with a message tailored to a market we thought only we knew so well.”

With the first engagement behind them and with success, no less, the TAP team is looking forward. They are looking to begin a second engagement in August, and to build upon this first experience to improve, further engage, and delve deeper. With the growing interest in life science consulting, they should have no problem recruiting more team members who are interested in venture capital, life science investing, and the life science business in general. And if the initial reviews are any hint to the future, the next client they select from their list of options will benefit enormously as well.

Applications for TAP’s second engagement open August 1st, 2016. If you are interested in applying or have a business that would benefit from TAP’s services, please contact tuftsadvisorypartners@gmail.com.