August 2010

ASBMB Members in Industry

While moving closer to the ocean was appealing to the native Angeleno, the thought of switching to industry was nerve-wracking; however, when Morimoto was given the chance to bring along his whole research group so his students could finish out their projects, he was sold. “That gave me a nice transition period to wind down my basic research and avoid any potential culture shock.”

Morimoto began industry life working in drug discovery research, but over the years, as he gained experience and moved around, he began shifting more to the applied research and product development side of things, leaving his lab coat behind.

Because of the size of the company, Allon does not handle the development process in-house; rather, it is one of many biotech companies that have embraced the “virtual drug development” model, outsourcing the various stages of development to contract labs across North America and Europe while managing the overall flow.

Currently, the major company effort involves their lead drug davunetide, which has demonstrated efficacy for some forms of cognitive impairment. Allon is beginning clinical trials for an orphan disease known as progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP.

“A major neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s is just too big for a small company like Allon,” Morimoto explains, “but we can use PSP, which is much rarer, as a proxy, because it displays pathology of entangled Tau protein, which happens to be one of the two major pathologies of Alzheimer’s.”

“Therefore, once we get data and approval of our drug for PSP, it opens up the market for us to partner with a larger company and move the drug to more prevalent diseases.”

Morimoto notes that in this regard, Allon serves as an excellent bridge between basic academic research and major industry. “We have the freedom to pursue scientific avenues that big pharma typically overlook,” he says, “which we can then translate to a form that appeals to large companies.”

As for any concerns that a large biotech firm may end up buying out Allon to remove the middle man? “Well, that possibility comes with any small company,” says Morimoto, “but if you look at recent news, with Pfizer buying Wyeth for example, there’s no stability guarantee in a big company either, so we’re not going to get too worried about it.”

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