Research News

Empire Discovery Institute for funding, support in drug discovery, development

Scientist working at the laboratory.

The Empire Discovery Institute is designed to help overcome key challenges typically faced by researchers in academia, including a lack of external funding to continue research and development efforts, and a lack of pharmaceutical industry expertise to advance programs to fruition.

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published October 16, 2019

“We represent a nimble and transformative approach to the creation of new medicines.”
Martin Graham, CEO
Empire Discovery Institute

UB researchers who study disease and are interested in developing pharmaceuticals are invited to apply for project funding and support through the Empire Discovery Institute (EDI), a drug discovery and development accelerator in upstate New York.

Established by UB, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Rochester, EDI aims to convert these institutions’ scientific breakthroughs into viable pharmaceuticals for commercialization.

The institute is designed to help overcome key challenges typically faced by life science researchers in academia: lack of external funding to continue research and development efforts, and lack of pharmaceutical industry expertise to advance programs to fruition.

UB investigators have until Nov. 29 to apply to the 2019 EDI Medicines Award Program.

The program seeks to support researchers who have discovered promising new pharmaceutical compounds, or who have identified new drug targets. Researchers selected by EDI will receive program support and pharmaceutical industry expertise, including:

  • Between $100,000 and $7.5 million in total program support over five years, including payments to contract research organizations (CROs). Ongoing funding is contingent on annual review of progress.
  • Collaboration with EDI’s Scientific Advisory Board, strategic partners and consultant network.
  • Drug discovery and development expertise.
  • Project management and planning.
  • Business and commercialization leadership.
  • Participation in startup formation when appropriate to attract private investment.
  • Clinical development advice.
  • Regulatory strategy and investigational new drug (IND) application preparation.
  • Intellectual property review and filing support.
  • Assistance identifying and securing additional finance (based on program needs).

To be considered for EDI support, researchers must complete an application describing their drug discovery program. EDI management and the EDI Scientific Advisory Board will select the most promising programs and, with input from the research team, design a milestone-based project plan. In accordance with the plan, EDI will fund the researcher’s lab and contract research organizations to execute the plan. It is expected that successful programs will be licensed at the IND stage or spun out into venture-backed startups.  

Staff from UB’s Technology Transfer team are available to assist UB investigators in understanding the program and application process. Researchers in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB who are interested in applying to EDI can contact Michael Fowler, commercialization manager for UB’s Technology Transfer team, at 716-645-8136 or mlfowler@buffalo.edu, for information. UB researchers in all other schools and colleges can contact commercialization manager Timothy Dee at 716-645-8139 or tpdee@buffalo.edu for information.

“We represent a nimble and transformative approach to the creation of new medicines,” says Martin Graham, CEO of EDI. “By coupling scientific innovation, pharmaceutical industry expertise and funding, EDI’s mission is to facilitate the efficient transformation of fundamental scientific discoveries into important new medicines for commercialization.”

Christina Orsi, UB associate vice president for economic development, notes that prior to the formation of EDI, “development of promising drug targets or novel compounds would often stall due to lack of funding for medicinal chemistry, formulation and general drug development expertise. EDI now provides the funding and expertise to translate UB’s therapeutic programs into life-changing therapeutics,” she says.

EDI’s award program is open to applications across a wide range of therapeutic areas. Drug development programs in the fields of cancer, neurological diseases/central nervous system conditions, and platform technologies with therapeutic potential across multiple diseases are of particular interest. Investigators working in the rare and orphan diseases are also encouraged to apply.

The institute does not currently support development of diagnostic products or medical devices.

Accelerating drug discovery and development

EDI — a nonprofit entity — was established through an initial grant of $35.4 million from Empire State Development, with an additional $12 million worth of matching funds from various partners.

The EDI Scientific Advisory Board includes pharmaceutical industry veterans with expertise in drug discovery and design, medicinal chemistry, drug formulation, pharmacology, toxicology, FDA regulatory strategy, clinical development, business development, biotechnology company entrepreneurship and drug product commercialization.

In collaboration with this Scientific Advisory Board, EDI will help researchers design and conduct preclinical testing of promising compounds discovered in their laboratories. Investigators will also receive expert assistance in de novo drug design, medicinal chemistry, pre-clinical testing, drug formulation, pharmacology and safety testing to advance candidate drugs through the various phase of pre-clinical testing to the first-in-human (IND-stage) clinical trials.

EDI focuses time and funding on drug candidates that are most likely to succeed. This enables the institute to more efficiently translate pivotal research into life-saving medicines. Successful programs will ideally have demonstrated the potential to address a clear, unmet medical need, and the prospect of developing highly differentiated and commercially attractive pharmaceuticals.

The goal is to generate new economic activity in upstate New York by moving new drug treatments through EDI, leading to licensing deals with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and the formation of new life sciences companies in the region.

In addition to developing strategic relationships with pharmaceutical partners and venture capital firms, EDI seeks to attract philanthropic sources of funding to facilitate the discovery, development and access of innovative new medicines for rare and orphan diseases in adults and children.