Yale’s reputation for high caliber drug research has attracted promises of collaboration and a $40 million gift to fund cancer research from a multinational pharmaceutical company.
The donation from Gilead Sciences, which was announced Tuesday morning, will support research into drug discovery for cancer treatment over the next four to ten years and could be worth as much as $100 million. University officials and scientists involved in the project said Wednesday that the gift is the result of Gilead’s confidence in Yale’s leading cancer researchers and shows significant promise to deliver cancer therapies.
“This is a tremendous vote of confidence in Yale science and in particular a tremendous vote of confidence in three of our scientists leading this effort,” University President Richard Levin said.
Pharmaceutical companies often develop partnerships with Yale and other research uiversities, said Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach. But they rarely choose to invest in basic science research without demonstrated progess toward drug development, she added, which demonstrates Gilead’s confidence in Yale researchers. She pointed to pharmacology professor Joseph Schlessinger’s past success in identifying drug targets as a key reason for establishing the collaboration.
The gift will complement the combined resources of the Yale School of Medicine, the Yale Cancer Center and cancer biology and genomics institutes at Yale’s West Campus, said Thomas Lynch ’82 MED ’86, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief at Smilow Cancer Hospital. The initial gift will support the collaboration for four years, with an option to renew the gift for an additional six years for a total of $100 million in funding from Gilead.
“[This gift] puts Yale in a remarkable position to look for new cancer targets and make a big difference in making medicines that will impact patients,” Lynch said.
With the gift, tumors collected by pathologists from patients at Smilow Cancer Hospital and the Yale Cancer Center will be sent to the the Yale Center for Genome Analysis at West Campus, where their genomes will be sequenced under the direction of Sterling professor of genetics Richard Lifton. Using these sequences, Yale researchers led by Schlessinger will search for genetic targets in tumors that are critical to cancer growth.
After researchers chosen by Schlessinger’s steering committee identify these targets, scientists from Yale and Gilead will collaborate in designing drugs to attack these tumor targets. Lynch said a pharmaceutical partner with experience in medicinal chemistry such as Gilead is crucial in drug design.
The details of how Gilead will work with Yale scientists on research have not yet been established, said Gilead Spokesman Nathan Kaiser, who added that Gilead’s research facility in Branford, Conn. could be used for collaborative projects.
Still, it was Yale’s prominent researchers — rather than proximity — that led Gilead to select Yale as a research partner, Kaiser said. He cited the Schlessinger, Lifton and Lynch’s “strong track record” in research as the primary reason for its decision to give to Yale.
“That team has made tremendous strides in delineating mechanisms that underlie a variety of different cancers,” Kaiser said.
The Gilead donation, taken with telecommunications magnate John Malone’s ’63 $50 million gift to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences last week, has pushed the University’s five-year, comprehensive fundraising campaign, Yale Tomorrow towards its $3.5 billion goal. As of Jan. 31, Yale had raised $3.35 billion.
Yale Tomorrow ends June 30.