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Mallinckrodt boosts rare-disease research at Washington University

Pharmaceutical company to fund up to $10 million to pursue new therapeutics

by Julia Evangelou StraitAugust 6, 2018

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Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has joined with Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals in a collaborative research partnership aimed at pursuing new therapies for patients with complex medical conditions, especially rare diseases that may have few or no treatment options.

The global pharmaceutical company, which has maintained a presence in St. Louis since its founding more than 150 years ago, will fund up to $10 million over five years to support research projects that show promise in developing new drugs or in supporting basic research that is likely to have medical applications. The grants will be awarded on a competitive basis, with projects selected by a committee consisting of experts from the School of Medicine and Mallinckrodt.

“Washington University is a research powerhouse, and by partnering with Mallinckrodt we are looking to harness that power and direct it into specific drug development and research projects that are most likely to benefit patients,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine. “In keeping with our focus on personalized medicine, a goal of the partnership is to develop new ways to help people with debilitating, complex conditions that lack effective treatment options.”

The program consists of two funding types. Mallinckrodt Program Grants will award up to $750,000 per year for projects with a high likelihood of moving an investigational therapy into the clinic. Mallinckrodt Challenge Grants will provide up to $150,000 to $300,000 annually for laboratory research that is deemed likely to have future medical applications. Faculty with funded projects will be Mallinckrodt Investigators and have access to additional resources and services provided by the company, including analytical chemistry tools and expertise; drug formulation support; and resources for navigating regulatory requirements for drug development.

“We are interested in boosting drug discovery and moving basic science into clinical development, so we can help more patients,” said Karen Seibert, PhD, a professor of anesthesiology. “Our goal is to be as nimble and as entrepreneurial as possible, looking for opportunities to advance research and drug development projects, especially where there is a clinical need not being met.”

The new partnership reflects a growing trend in academic-industry collaborations that takes a synergistic approach to drug discovery. Mallinckrodt brings to the table its expertise in drug development and a specific interest in autoimmune disorders and rare diseases, especially in neurology, rheumatology, nephrology, pulmonology and ophthalmology. The company has further interest in new immunotherapies, gastrointestinal products, analgesics and neonatal respiratory critical care. Washington University scientists are widely known for the expertise and innovative approaches in the basic sciences, including molecular biology, genetics, immunology and other disciplines, and have a long track record in identifying mechanisms of disease and drug targets.

“We are excited to begin this collaboration with our partners at Mallinckrodt,” said Jennifer K. Lodge, PhD, vice chancellor for research at Washington University and a professor of molecular microbiology. “Mallinckrodt has expertise and resources that can help drive some of our scientists’ innovative research through the drug development pipeline.”

Mallinckrodt has roots in St. Louis dating back to the 1860s, and the Mallinckrodt family has a long history of generous support to Washington University. Such funding established the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in 1931, and the institute remains a world leader in medical imaging today. Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr., the son of one of the company’s founders and a Washington University trustee from 1928 to 1942, also established five endowed professorships in his family’s name and provided other noteworthy gifts to the university. The Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr., Foundation also supports a number of young research investigators across the university.

“Washington University School of Medicine’s research strengths are well aligned with Mallinckrodt’s expertise in drug development, and we are very pleased to have this exceptional opportunity to join forces,” said Steven Romano, MD, Mallinckrodt’s executive vice president and chief scientific officer. “We both have a strong strategic focus on improving outcomes for patients with severe and critical conditions, and we look forward to working with our partners at Washington University to find ways of meeting these patients’ unmet needs.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,300 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Julia covers medical news in genomics, cancer, cardiology, developmental biology, otolaryngology, biochemistry & molecular biophysics, and gut microbiome research. In 2022, she won a gold award for excellence in the Robert G. Fenley Writing Awards competition. Given by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the award recognized her coverage of long COVID-19. Before joining Washington University in 2010, she was a freelance writer covering science and medicine. She has a research background with stints in labs focused on bioceramics, human motor control and tissue-engineered heart valves. She is a past Missouri Health Journalism Fellow and a current member of the National Association of Science Writers. She holds a bachelor's degree in engineering science from Iowa State University and a master's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Minnesota.