Bench to Biotech to Bedside with Big Pharma

As a medical research Institute, QIMR Berghofer works hard to ensure that the insights gained from research get translated into the community or the clinic. Sometimes this is a long and slow haul, but when we make progress in transferring mature work from the laboratory, there is a great sense of satisfaction. Treatments to address diseases in patients have to be made robust and their safety tested by thorough evaluation in clinical trials. That is why we talk at QIMR Berghofer of our new paradigm of Bench to Biotech to Bedside (B2B2B). This is in contrast to Bench to Bedside or the other more classical B2B2B which is business to business to business. There is an essential step where industry nous and finances are essential and that is found in Biotech companies and Big Pharma – but B2B2B is easier to promote than variations that would include all industries.

In the recent past we have had two major developments that attest to the quality and relevance of our work. In August 2015 we announced that Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) a world leading pharmaceutical giant had selected us for a very significant research partnering agreement. This is in the area of Immuno-Oncology (IO) which is one of the most promising sources of potential new treatments for cancer. There are treatments that are based on an understanding of the interplay between the tumour cells and the immune system. A small but growing number of them have moved into clinical use. Clinically significant improvements in survival for melanoma patients have been recorded and the data are consolidating to a major boost for those with this difficult cancer. Our insights will add to the products that are being brought forward and hopefully will help to extend the range of cancers that can be targeted successfully.

Then last week we announced another agreement – this time with Atara Biotherapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company with a focus on developing meaningful therapies for patients with unmet medical needs in diseases that have seen limited therapeutic innovation. This company have identified opportunities to treat some cancers and autoimmune diseases by targeting viruses that are associated with them and by training the immune system to attack the associated tumour or affected cells. We have a leading track record in these approaches having completed clinical trials where we targeted Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) that drives Naso-Pharyngeal cancers and Cytomegalovirus (CMV) that accompanies brain tumours (Glioblastomas). Because of that, Atara have chosen us to partner with them in developing new and improved means of delivering these and other therapies.  Again this is the first part of B2B2B. We look forward completing the pathway in the next years.

So it is a time to recognise, again, that quality research carried out with an eye on the endpoint of translation can and does characterise QIMR Berghofer. Two significant agreements that arrive at almost the same time is unusual. In each case we hope that the patients will be the beneficiaries of success. Inspiration comes to all at the Institute when projects that had benefitted from years of work end up as part of a pipeline to the clinic. Now we have to re-focus on other research developments that we hope will add to these successes in due course.

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