China’s WuXi, a Partner of San Diego’s TargeGen, Offers New Model for Drug Development

3/11/10Follow @bvbigelow

A few years ago, news articles in Business Week, Nature, and elsewhere described a veritable stampede among big pharmaceutical companies like Roche, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline to work with contract research organizations in China and India.

As it turns out, some of San Diego’s smallest biotech startups have been doing the same thing.

The reason—for big and small drug development companies alike—is that the scientific capabilities of laboratories in places like Shanghai and Mumbai are proving to be very high, while the costs are very low. As I recounted a few weeks ago, aFraxis CEO Jay Lichter said the San Diego biotech saved millions of dollars by conducting preclinical research on a drug therapy for Fragile X syndrome by working with a contract research organization in Moscow.

Ivor Royston

Ivor Royston

Recently, Ivor Royston, a founding managing partner at San Diego’s Forward Ventures, told me a similar story about TargeGen, a San Diego biotech developing drug candidates for blood-related diseases that target JAK2, a protein kinase implicated in a host of myeloid proliferative disorders that include multiple leukemias. For Royston, TargeGen’s chairman, the San Diego biotech also serves as an example of how early stage drug development can still be conducted despite an ultra-lean business operation.

The San Diego biotech began working with a Shanghai-based contract research organization, or CRO, WuXi PharmaTech, within a few years after TargeGen was founded in 2001. WuXi itself had just gotten started the previous year. But Richard Soll, who joined TargeGen in 2002 as chief scientific officer and vice president of research and development, was confident he could rely on WuXi to do important early-stage experiments because he was personally acquainted with WuXi’s founder.

“Wuxi PharmaTech was in the business of making compound libraries,” said Soll, who decided to use contract research as a way to keep his research group lean. TargeGen was initially skeptical and cautious about working with … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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