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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

Innovation Partnerships Ramps Up Great Lakes Discovery Program


After a 10-year alliance with up to $130 million in funding from Deerfield Management Co. was announced in May, the U-M Office of Innovation Partnerships has worked quickly to solicit the first round of project proposals and staff a role that will be essential for the alliance’s success.

Under U-M’s partnership with Deerfield, the newly established Great Lakes Discovery LLC will serve as a vehicle through which drug discovery projects led by U-M researchers and selected by a joint Deerfield-U-M committee can receive Deerfield funding and operational support in exchange for an option to patent rights. The goal is to get therapeutic programs in areas of high unmet medical need to IND-readiness, at which point the projects will be eligible to receive additional funding from Deerfield.

Innovation Partnerships solicited the first wave of proposals in September, and they are due November 30, 2020.

Another key event since the partnership was announced is the appointment of Dr. Seohee You as the Great Lakes Discovery Scientific Collaboration Manager. She began the new position November 1, after working in Innovation Partnerships as a Life Science and Research Tools Analyst, and in academic and industry drug discovery settings for the 10 years prior.

As the Scientific Collaboration Manager, Dr. You manages all aspects of Great Lakes Discovery, including engagement with faculty, the solicitation of proposals, and overseeing the review process. She works closely with U-M faculty and the broader Deerfield Discovery and Development (3DC) team to ensure a robust pipeline of projects.

Deerfield has similar partnerships with about a dozen other universities, but U-M is well-positioned to compete for Deerfield resources, according to Ed Pagani. Dr. Pagani is an Associate Director of Licensing and Managing Director of Therapeutic Partnerships and was a key Innovation Partnerships team member involved in setting up the alliance. He will continue to provide myriad support for the U-M therapeutics portfolio and proposals, and will represent U-M on the Great Lakes Discovery joint steering committee alongside Kelly Sexton, AVP for Research – Technology Transfer and Innovation Partnerships.

“University of Michigan has an excellent infrastructure to support drug discovery,” said Dr. Pagani, including Michigan Drug Discovery — a program established to mentor, support, identify and coordinate drug discovery at U-M — and a handful of core facilities on campus.

Selected projects will also benefit from access to the expertise of 3DC teams, Dr. You said. 3DC teams have specialized areas of expertise in drug development, including drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics; chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC); and clinical and regulatory. All are areas that typically aren’t easily accessible for academic researchers.

To enable a quick pivot from project selection to project execution, the legal terms of the Great Lakes Discovery alliance have been pre-negotiated. “Researchers can focus immediately on the science,” explained Dr. Pagani, rather than spending months negotiating agreement and license terms before proceeding with a project. Dr. Pagani pointed to Rick Brandon, Associate General Counsel in the U-M Office of the VP and General Counsel, as being instrumental in the legal negotiations for the alliance.

Dr. You added that unlike many other funding opportunities, Great Lakes Discovery is seeking projects across all stages of drug discovery in broad therapeutic areas. “There’s no requirement for a project to have background IP,” to be selected, she explained.

A virtual information session providing an overview of the collaboration, proposal process and selection criteria was held by Great Lakes Discovery on October 21. U-M faculty can register below to access the slides and Informational Session recording. Researchers seeking information should contact Seohee You.