Recap: Virginia Drug Discovery Rx: Symposium on Academic-Industrial Partnerships in Drug Discovery

Hundreds gathered on June 25 at George Mason University Founders Hall for the 3rd annual Virginia Drug Discovery Symposium.  The Symposium fosters collaboration in drug discovery research, in all disease areas, between Virginia universities and the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. The program started with an in-depth look at the National Cancer Institute’s wide-range of support for early-stage innovation. Interestingly, the organizers positioned four lecturers throughout the day to describe state-of-the-art science (e.g., novel antimicrobial peptides from extreme species) being commercialized throughout the Commonwealth.

The first day’s discussion worked through the optimal industry-academic partnership for drug discovery, and how to file for an Investigational New Drug (IND). It was noted that the pharmaceutical industry cannot do the level of basic research it did twenty years ago, so industry-academic partnerships are required to build basic research, and to better commercialize translational research. Members of the panel from industry explained the benefits to industry-academic partnerships on workforce development. For example, there may be more industry positions available than academic professorships, so partnerships can help steer Ph.D. candidates and post-docs toward a career in industry.  Jeff Gallagher of @VABio was very bullish on Virginia’s emerging academic-hospital partnerships (e.g., Virginia Tech Carilion, UVA and Mason partnership with Inova Center for Personalized Health) to lead bench to bedside commercialization efforts and job growth in the life sciences.

One panel member noted, in a very thought-provoking statement, “there is a 99 percent failure rate of drugs going through full phase development and into commercialization.” Moreover, it became evident that industry has learned to stop drug development early on when the data is conclusive, whereas academia may tend to push development further than industry, possibly due to the nature of its funding. At the end of the first day, the consensus was that the goal is to have rock solid IP, to be cognizant of competition in the market, and to seek out partnerships to de-risk the costly drug development process.

The second day’s discussion highlighted the many entrepreneurial support initiatives in the Commonwealth, in addition to the new technologies that are improving the drug discovery process. It was recognized how regional collaboration efforts (e.g., BioHealth Capital Region) are strengthening Virginia’s ability to transition its scientific breakthroughs from bench to bedside.

Symposium Sponsors


Christopher Girdwood

Prince William County Department of Economic Development


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