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Sun Pharma Advanced Research Co. commits $10 million to drug development

New collaboration supports entrepreneurship

by Julia Evangelou StraitJanuary 29, 2018

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Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is joining with Sun Pharma Advanced Research Co. (SPARC) to support new drug development through the university’s Center for Drug Discovery and the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship. SPARC will provide $10 million to fund the Skandalaris Center’s LEAP Inventor Challenge and provide drug development expertise to researchers pursuing the commercialization of new pharmaceuticals.

The LEAP (Leadership in Entrepreneurial Acceleration Program) Inventor Challenge provides training to Washington University faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and staff who are working to bring new medicines to market. The program includes mentorship from industry professionals. The collaboration with SPARC will support the development of small-molecule drugs for the treatment of common diseases. SPARC is a pharmaceutical research and drug-discovery company based in Mumbai, India. A subsidiary of Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, SPARC was formed in 2007 to focus on active drug-discovery projects.

“Bringing a new compound to market is a complex process,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “By joining forces with SPARC, we can harness the complementary strengths of the School of Medicine’s academic research programs and private industry’s resources to better support the development of new therapeutics.”

As part of the new effort, SPARC will provide an initial investment of $250,000 to individual projects selected for the LEAP program, with the possibility of two additional years of funding. The company also may provide support from its scientists and laboratory facilities, including services in medicinal chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology studies, formulation development, analytical development and intellectual property support.

SPARC’s top priorities include new drug discoveries in the areas of oncology, dermatology, ophthalmology, immunoinflammatory disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. Projects that repurpose existing drugs or improve upon drug delivery are also of interest.

“SPARC is looking for small-molecule therapeutic opportunities,” said Michael S. Kinch, PhD, an associate vice chancellor at Washington University and director of its Center for Research Innovation in Biotechnology and the Center for Drug Discovery. “The vast majority of medicines that people take by mouth, such as aspirin, are small molecules. Over the last 10-15 years, the earliest stages of drug discovery have moved out of pharmaceutical companies and into academic medical centers. At Washington University, we’re interested in nurturing more of these early drug-development projects. And SPARC is interested in getting an early look at the most promising new compounds in development.”

The LEAP Inventor Challenge has three cycles per year. The current round opened Jan. 23.

“To get involved in the LEAP program, investigators need to submit a one-sentence idea,” said Jennifer K. Lodge, PhD, vice chancellor for research at Washington University and a professor of molecular microbiology. “The Skandalaris Center will work with selected teams over the next four months to refine their ideas.

“This differs from what many researchers are accustomed to,” added Lodge, who also is the associate dean for research at the School of Medicine. “They don’t need to have an entire research project mapped out in their funding proposal. The training will help investigators identify areas where their research goals and the goals of the company overlap, so that a new collaboration at that intersection can boost the development of new drug compounds.”

After acceptance into the LEAP program, each team will spend four months working with the Skandalaris Center to write an executive summary of the project and develop a pitch that will be given to judges making funding decisions. The judges will be representatives from SPARC who have expertise in bringing drugs to market. An initial submission can be short and simple, but to be selected, a project must have some pilot data supporting its feasibility, such as past proof-of-concept studies or promising data in animal models.

The program also will involve the university’s Office of Technology Management, which will help participants navigate the intellectual property and patent processes involved in developing new therapeutics.

For more information about the LEAP Inventor Challenge and SPARC, visit

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked seventh 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.