Several years ago, Stanford neuroscientist Craig Garner, PhD, found himself facing a common problem for researchers: figuring out how to cross the so-called “valley of death” between drug discovery and development. In his case, he wanted to get pharmaceutical companies interested in funding his lab’s promising new Down syndrome treatment.
The answer was SPARK, a hands-on training program that assists scientists in moving their discoveries from bench to bedside. The program was created by Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, after she experienced challenges in getting her own entrepreneurial venture off the ground. A story published in yesterday's Inside Stanford Medicine explains how Mochly-Rosen and a group of industry experts search hundreds of patents submitted to the university’s Office of Technology Licensing and select projects, such as Garner's, that could benefit from SPARK’s help. My colleague Ranjini Raghunath writes:
Since SPARK’S founding, 51 research teams have “graduated” from the program. More than half of its projects have been licensed or have advanced to clinical use, or both, in sharp contrast to the pharmaceutical industry’s own success rate of approximately five percent. With SPARK’s support, a research team led by dermatologist Alfred Lane, MD, has received a fund- able score on a food and Drug Administration orphan grant for phase-2 trials of a repurposed drug to treat lymphatic malformations that disfigure and disable children. Another team, led by immunologists William Robinson, MD, PhD, and Jeremy Sokolove, MD, is testing a combination of drugs to treat early stages of cartilage loss and joint degeneration in bone arthritis. findings of a third research team led by bioinformatics expert Atul Butte, MD, PhD, and Bruce Ling, PhD — biomarkers for detecting dangerously high blood pres- sure in pregnancy — have already been picked up for licensing by a start-up biotechnology company. Former SPARK beneficiaries, or “SPARKees,” have credited the program with helping them get research grants, publish papers in reputable journals and even land a tenure-track position, Mochly-Rosen said.
The piece goes on to note that universities around the world have launched, or are developing, their own SPARK programs. Mochly-Rosen's overall goal for the program is to integrate Stanford and other institutions’ programs under one brand and use it to attract commercial investors to support early-stage research discoveries.
Previously: Director of NIH discusses accelerating translation of biomedical research into clinical applications, Re-engineering the drug-development process to speed medical advances, Why drug development is time consuming and expensive (hint: it’s hard) and A glimpse at the price of drugs: Why they cost what they cost
Photo of Daria Mochly-Rosen by Steve Gladfelter