Tightrope across the valley of death

Over the last few years there has been an explosion in the rate of discovery of promising potential new therapies in university labs, fueled by advances in both basic biology and chemistry, and the availability of new tools to academic researchers. However, the gap between the lab and the market—the "valley of death"—continues to widen as both government and investor funding of biomedicine decline. 

In response to the challenge of moving potentially life-saving new treatments across the valley of death, the LSI’s Leadership Council formed the Innovation Partnership five years ago with more than $2 millionraised from donors. Importantly, the Partnership doesn’t just provide funding—it also connects LSI scientists with leaders in the top ranks of business, venture capital, and the biopharmaceutical industry.

I'm very pleased to share with you the latest result of Innovation Partnership-supported research: LSI faculty member Steve Weiss’ work on a novel discovery platform for new cancer treatments, as well as the identification of a particular monoclonal antibody that his lab is investigating as a potential anticancer therapeutic. The paper, "A 3D matrix platform for the rapid generation of therapeutic anti-human carcinoma monoclonal antibodies," appeared this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The platform relies on an ingenious idea from Steve: He has replicated the native environment of cancer cells to identify new antibodies likely to exhibit anticancer activity in patients. His unique model increases the likelihood that drugs that stop the growth of tumor cells in test tubes will also stop cancer from growing in humans.

The paper also describes the Steve’s use of the platform to discover an antibody that recognizes a molecule that is increased in cancer cells and plays a key role in cancer cell progression and survival; further tests showed that the antibody stops breast cancer tumor growth in animal models.

The Weiss lab is now advancing research into this antibody— the first of many—as a potential treatment in humans. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but his finding is proof of principle for the discovery platform. Additional antibodies against other molecular targets have already emerged, and may also be candidates for further development. Steve is actively engaged in discussions now with numerous investors to determine how best to move these agents into the clinic.

The participation of the Partnership—both the generous financial support and the insights and advice of many of our board members—made this work possible by giving Steve invaluable guidance and critical funding. I'm very excited about both the platform and the first lead antibody, and am looking forward to working with our Leadership Council as we guide the next project along the tightrope across the valley of death.