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5.01.2014

Miller School Signs Agreement for Drug Discovery Partnership

The Miller School and Berg, a Boston-based biopharmaceutical company, have entered into a collaborative research and development agreement to share research and data while seeding critical projects in the areas of cancer, metabolic diseases and diseases of the central nervous system.

Berg, co-founded by Niven R. Narain, who previously was the School’s Director of Transdermal Delivery/Cutaneous Cancer Research in the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, has already funded more than $10 million in research grants over the past 10 years. This formalized partnership is expected to increase that value even further and accelerate Miami’s standing as an emerging hub for biotechnology.

Crucial to the deal will be access to Berg’s Interrogative Biology™ discovery platform, which has previously produced clinical and IND-enabling therapeutic assets in cancer and metabolic diseases, in addition to diagnostics assets and markers for prostate cancer and heart failure. In turn, Berg will have access to a world-class pool of clinical investigators and researchers, as well as clinically annotated tissue samples, and blood, urine and other samples from South Florida’s diverse patient population.

“The future of health will be built on a deeper interface and understanding of how biology and technology work together. Berg has a deep pipeline with targets and disease markers ready for validation and clinical utility,” said Narain, who is Berg’s President and Chief Technology Officer. “Together with the University of Miami’s first-rate researchers and diverse tissue samples, we can help catalyze discovery for some of our most challenging and debilitating diseases.”

Additionally, Berg will have the opportunity to fund seed projects and provide critical research and development support to the School’s thought leaders in basic science and translational and clinical research to drive a barrier-free and unique academic-industry relationship. The School will make its expertise and resources available to Berg, and will also fund seed projects that will use Berg technologies to drive innovation from bench to bedside.

“We are living in a time in which the intersection of biology and technology is revealing novel insights into the mechanisms of disease that would have never before been possible,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School and CEO of UHealth. “Through this collaboration, the University of Miami and Berg are in a unique position to improve the traditional industry-academia relationship, eliminating barriers to free up resources advantageous to both parties and bring meaningful discoveries for improved patient outcomes.”

For example, the two parties will leverage their combined clinical expertise and research capacity to enter critical markets such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Under the leadership of Goldschmidt, one of the world’s most renowned cardiologists, Berg will partner with the University on a novel marker for heart failure. Additionally, groundbreaking work will take place to identify new drug delivery modalities in diabetes that have the potential to eliminate the need for insulin dependence.

“Working together with our entrepreneurial faculty and our partners in the Office of Research Administration, the U Innovation team is fully committed to establishing and supporting new partnerships that will accelerate development of promising discoveries. We look forward to working with the Berg Pharma team,” said Norma Kenyon, Ph.D., the Miller School of Medicine’s Chief Innovation Officer and the University of Miami’s Vice Provost for Innovation.

“In biomedical research, it is important to bring discoveries from the laboratory to the patient as quickly as possible,” said Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm.D., M.S., Professor and Lucille P. Markey Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Associate Director of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute. “When academic researchers collaborate with industrial scientists, as we will be doing with Berg, it speeds translation to the marketplace. This relationship will also help train our students for research-based careers.”

According to Narain, Berg’s collaborative relationship with the University of Miami signals an important milestone in the development of Florida as a suitable environment for biotechnology. In addition, he sees this agreement as a promising bridge between Miami and longstanding research hubs like Boston, which can serve as a valuable exchange of healthcare and clinical innovation.

Berg’s application of machine-learning (artificial intelligence) in biology and medicine allows for a combination of systems biology and systems engineering leading to well-defined answers on human health. The Berg Interrogative Biology platform integrates molecular data directly from a patient with clinical and demographic information to learn predictive patterns. The platform has the potential to provide the physician with actionable information to recommend efficient and safe treatment pathways, insurance companies with health economics analyses to develop more relevant formulary, and governments with a data ecosystem for financial modeling of a population’s healthcare needs.

“The future of successful industry-university collaborations will look like this,” said James O’Connell, Director of UM’s Office of Technology Transfer. “Universities have lots of innovative ideas, but little market guidance; industry has market knowledge, but it needs innovation. Agreements like this create a win-win outcome for both sides.”

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