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Sculpture depicting ribosomes at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Credit: Catrijn vanden Westhende/Flickr

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, hospital join forces to develop cancer drugs

The famed Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) on Long Island, New York, a bastion of basic biomedical research, is making a major foray into more applied drug development. Today the lab and North Shore-LIJ Health System, a local hospital system, announced a new alliance and a more than $120 million investment aimed at moving basic cancer discoveries into the clinic.

The alliance does not mean that CSHL is moving away from basic research, says Bruce Stillman, CSHL CEO and President. “Our discovery science has placed us as one of the leading research institutions in the world,” and “I want to keep it at that level,” he says. But the lab also wants to turn those discoveries into drugs. It found an “ideal marriage” with North Shore-LIJ, which has 16,000 new cancer patients each year in the New York City area and wanted to expand its academic clinical research, he says. “This will provide a substantial amount of funding to do the translational cancer research that we have been doing on a shoestring budget,” Stillman says.

The not-for profit CSHL, which turns 125 this year, has a $145 million budget and 600 researchers and technical staff who study cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, and quantitative biology. The lab has long had a National Cancer Institute–designated Cancer Center where work using genomics, RNAi screens, and mouse models has yielded important cancer drug targets. But until now the lab has relied largely on pharmaceutical companies to develop those findings into treatments. “This will take it to a different level” with the alliance’s researchers validating targets, developing protocols, and conducting early stage clinical trials, Stillman says.

However, “we’re not pretending we’re going to become a full-service pharmaceutical company,” Stillman says. The lab expects to use outside contracting research organizations for steps such as screening small molecules and conducting medical chemistry.

North Shore-LIJ will recruit a new head for its cancer institute, who will also be on the faculty of CSHL. The lab also plans to hire more clinician-scientists like David Tuveson, a pancreatic cancer researcher recruited 4 years ago from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute in the United Kingdom, who is now deputy director of CSHL’s Cancer Center. Tuveson and Stillman say the new venture aims to emulate the Institute of Cancer Research in London, where basic and clinical researchers worked together on the early development of drugs such as PARP inhibitors, which target cancers with defects in DNA repair, and abiraterone, used to treat prostate cancer. “The idea is to take our scientific approach into early stage clinical studies,” an area that is not well supported by either federal funding or drug companies, Tuveson says.

The two partners are not disclosing the source of the initial $120 million. But Stillman notes that private donors and foundations contributed $22 million for a preclinical therapeutics development facility that CSHL began building in 2013.

Stillman says the new venture will not compromise CSHL’s basic research. Despite more than a decade of flat budgets at the National Institutes of Health, CSHL’s federal funding is up and the lab is two-thirds of the way toward a goal of raising $250 million largely for its endowment to support basic research. Nor does the lab have any plans to trim its meetings and courses program that hosts gatherings such as The Biology of Genomes, one of the genomics field’s most important meetings. “Cold Spring Harbor’s identity is not going to change,” Stillman says.

*Correction, 2 April, 1:25 p.m.: David Tuveson's previous affiliation has been corrected.