Ohio Institute Turning Breakthrough Discoveries into Life-Saving Drugs

Written by Kevin Volz.

The exhilaration that a medical researcher feels after making a breakthrough discovery is often tempered by a simple question: What now? From the moment a discovery is made in a laboratory to the time when a new drug is actually ready for use in patients, years can pass and promising breakthroughs can languish due to a lack of funding. Harrington Discovery Institute in Cleveland is working to change that.

“We’re dedicated to finding and funding the work of promising physician-scientists all over the world,” said Natalie A. Haynes, Program Director for the Harrington Discovery Institute. “We not only want to support and encourage their work, but also accelerate how their discoveries are turned into medicines that impact patients’ lives,” she said.

Based at University Hospitals in Cleveland, the nonprofit institute received a $25 million grant from Ohio Third Frontier in 2014. The funding is used to support the work of physician-scientists as close to home as Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, where researchers are exploring new pathways to treat blood cancers, to as far away as Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Funding is helping scientists in the U.K. develop a newer, more effective vaccine to treat and prevent tuberculosis.

“We’re not focused on just one disease,” said Haynes. “We look for opportunities to support the best and the brightest researchers, wherever they are, and in any number of different specialties,” she said.

Currently, the institute is also supporting medical research at The Ohio State University, Mayo Clinic, Duke University and Johns Hopkins, among others. It has also funded research efforts outside academic medical centers, through strategic partnerships with the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation and the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

There are currently 33 scholars who receive funding from The Harrington Discovery Institute, and guidance from a team of executives who have extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

“We try to select projects we think we can help advance within two years,” Haynes said. “These are researchers who are on the cusp of transitioning from clinical research to commercial development.”

When physician-scientists are ready for commercial drug development, the Harrington Discovery Institute Innovation Support Center offers guidance every step of the way.

Staff experts work closely with researchers, offering advice on the commercial viability of a drug, help with business development and technology transfer issues, and the protection of intellectual property rights.

Once a drug is ready for commercial production, the Innovation Support Center will also help identify and secure funding from investors and entrepreneurs.

“Part of the great relationship we have with the state is that we find ways to partner with Ohio-based pharmaceutical companies,” said Haynes. “We want to continue to make Ohio a center for medical innovation around the globe.”

Those efforts are already paying off. “In 2013, we began a relationship with two scholar-innovators who used funding from The Harrington Discovery Institute to conduct research at the University of California, San Francisco,” said Haynes. “They have since launched a company based on that research, and they are doing it here in Ohio.”

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