Open water: NIBR chief Jay Bradner partners with UC Berkeley on protein drug research institute
Almost exactly two years to the day since he was named head of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Jay Bradner is celebrating the anniversary with a new collaboration with top investigators at UC Berkeley focusing on protein drug research.
Inspired by the landmark alliance with Penn that recently led to the approval of the world’s first CAR-T drug, Bradner is diving deep into a field he was already immersed in as a researcher at Dana-Farber. In doing so he plans to take covalent binding to a whole new level in search of new breakthroughs that can start hitting some currently “undruggable” targets.
The deal creates the new Novartis-Berkeley Center for Proteomics and Chemistry Technologies, which will be led by Berkeley’s Daniel Nomura with an eye to getting the scientists at each campus working together on some common goals.
“This collaboration really checks all the boxes,” Bradner tells me. It’s important chemistry with a truly outstanding group of investigators out to address intractable targets. And it helps define the open discovery framework that Novartis is still working on, with more such partnerships planned for the future.
“More and more,’ says Bradner, “this best practice ought to be our standard practice.”
The collaboration will seek out irreversibly binding molecules, he notes, while also following a path in search of next-gen approaches to protein degradation, something along the lines that his last Dana-Farber biotech spinoff — C4 — is engaged on. The goal is to “engage the ubiquitin/proteasome system in a new way.”
Bradner spent much of his first year at NIBR, one of the world’s largest discovery organizations with around 6,000 staffers, doing some restructuring and realignment. That called for growing chemical biology expertise while relocating the tropical disease group from Singapore to a base in Emeryville, CA. NIBR also moved to regenerate its respiratory disease research group. And more recently Bradner delighted in recruiting new talent — most notably UCSF cardio expert Shaun Coughlin — into the organization while promoting others from within.
Says Brader: “This has ruthlessly been the search for the strongest swimmer.”
Now the focus is on creating more of these external partnerships, while letting the scientists involved do some blue sky thinking about what they can accomplish.
“I have to tell you,” he adds, “I have found that Novartis is most comfortable in open water.”
Whether it works or not will be determined by the number and quality of the new drugs they steer to approvals in the world’s big drug ports.
Image: Jay Bradner (middle) File Photo