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A trio of California universities have joined SRI International to form PharmaStart, a group aimed at taking discoveries made at the schools into clinical trials. Officials at Stanford and the University of California branches in San Francisco and San Diego said that they want to take on more of the task of developing drugs because they believe that venture capitalists and drug manufacturers are becoming hesitant about investing in academic medical discoveries.
Universities traditionally have ?moved the science into the clinic? when pharmaceutical companies have licensed experimental drugs from universities, or when professors have received backing from venture capitalists to start companies. University officials, however, said that there has been a breakdown in the system because pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists have become opposed to taking chances on raw technology and are more interested in drugs that have shown some promise in a small clinical trial. The result has been that less promising ideas have been able to pass through what experts have called the ?valley of death? between basic discovery and commercial development. Although the university officials said that they do not foresee their institutions becoming drug companies, they believe that by taking over more of the basic work on the drugs?such as testing them for toxicity in animals?they can attract pharmaceutical companies.
It is too early to tell whether the consortium will work. In the deal, SRI International, a nonprofit institute that does contract research, will offer universities up to 30 hours of free consulting for each project to develop a plan for how to test toxicity and make the drug for clinical trials. The universities, however, would still have to raise the funding for the tests and manufacturing.