Thursday, April 19, 2012

One-on-One with UCSF researcher Jonah Chan

One of the oft-mentioned bridges across biotech’s “valley of death” -- that space in which promising technologies are just too new to win the funding necessary to take them to the next stage of development -- is disease foundations, patient advocacy groups and philanthropy.
In fact, last month’s CalBio conference by the state’s two premier biotech trade groups, BayBio and BioCom, focused on promoting collaborations between medical research and disease foundations and biotech drug developers. Folks in the industry point, for example, to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s partnership with Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. to develop Kalydeco and two other drugs in development, or various company programs backed by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Often, though, disease foundations make an impact much earlier in the research process, especially as National Institutes of Health funding becomes increasingly scarce. That is where the Myelin Repair Foundation is active in trying to accelerate research in neurological diseases.
Among the researchers backed by the Saratoga-based foundation are Dr. Stephen Miller, a Northwestern University who expects to start a proof-of-concept trial in multiple sclerosis, and Dr. Jonah Chan, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, whose lab is screening compounds that may repair the central nervous system damage that accompanies multiple sclerosis.
The MRF started financing Chan’s work in January.
Chan also have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the Baxter Family Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
I spoke recently with Chan about his research, alternative sources of funding and when the work of his eight-person lab might lead to an MS drug.

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