CHAPEL HILL – Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are one step closer to a possible new treatment against multiple myeloma, a devastating type of blood cancer.

That’s because their project now has the backing of Pinnacle Hill, the drug spinout company formed in partnership with UNC and Deerfield Management, a New York-based health care investment firm.

The firm recently said it would support a project led by Lindsey Ingerman James, Ph.D., a UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy chemical biology and medicinal chemistry division assistant professor.

James and her team are interested in epigenetic abnormalities that lead to this type of cancer, and are working to apply medicinal chemistry, chemical biology, and cancer biology approaches to discover potential therapeutic agents.

The Eshelman School

“There’s no doubt this initial agreement from Pinnacle Hill will accelerate Dr. James’ life-changing work,” said Terry Magnuson, UNC’s vice chancellor for research and Pinnacle Hill steering committee member.

“The project is a testament to the power of the partnership between Deerfield and UNC-Chapel Hill.”

First project agreement

Launched in October 2018, Pinnacle Hill was set up with a $65 million funding commitment from Deerfield to accelerate the development and translation of these biomedical and life-science innovations to address the significant unmet medical needs.

The startup focuses on drug research projects that are approved and overseen by a joint steering committee comprised of members from UNC and Deerfield leadership teams.

James’ project is the first to be selected under this alliance for funding into investigational new drug therapies.

Lindsey James, PhD.

“The goal of our alliance with UNC-Chapel Hill is to identify and advance the most important discoveries that could improve the lives of patients and their families,” said James E. Flynn, Deerfield’s managing partner.

“Professor James’ work exemplifies this and is outstanding. We are delighted to advance her novel research and are optimistic about continued progress in Dr. James’ laboratory as well as other milestones to come at UNC. They’ve been a great partner.”

Pioneering a model of partnership

This is one of several academic alliances that Deerfield is pursuing.

Just last month, the firm announced that it had teamed up with Duke University to form another drug spin-out company called Four Points Innovation, targeting patients who suffer from hard-to-treat and rare diseases.

It pitched in $130 million of initial funding to back the initiative over 10 years.
Deerfield said it believes investing in early-stage research is where it can “add value to the healthcare system.”

“We recognize that researchers at academic institutions discover many of the novel insights that advance our understanding of disease,” Karen Heidelberger, Deerfield’s chief partnership and communications officer, told the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

“Commercially promising innovations eventually outgrow the lab, requiring greater resources and more-focused development expertise than an academic setting can typically provide. To address this need, we have pioneered this model of partnership with academic institutions, which creates the potential for rapid funding and advancement of promising therapies.”

Deerfield’s other partnerships of this type include those with The Broad Institute, the University of California San Diego, and Johns Hopkins, Northwestern and Vanderbilt universities.

Deerfield also has a combined association with Rockefeller University, Cornell and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center through their joint discovery unit, the TDI; and, finally, Deerfield has a project-specific collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center