The Purdue University Center for Cancer Research has started its own company, with the hopes of eventually making new cancer drugs.
The new independent nonprofit, Boilermaker Health Innovations, is under the umbrella of the Purdue Research Foundation. The idea is to generate money for more research through the profits. The plan is to develop new cancer drugs, take them through the first proof of principal clinical trial and then either spin off a company or sell them to pharmaceutical companies.
"We de-risk it," said. Dr. Timothy L. Ratliff, Robert Wallace Miller director at the research center. "If we take it through the first clinical trials they (the drug companies) will be more likely to pick it up."
Without this proof, Ratliff said, pharmaceutical companies are not that interested in new drugs. It's too risky to spend all the money on developing something that hasn't been tested. If a company picks up a drug without the testing and begins to move it ahead it only has a 2 percent chance of eventually being approved by the FDA.
Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, now Purdue chancellor, understands innovation and is behind the new company, Ratliff said.
"I had worked for three years trying to get that going before Daniels came here," Ratliff said.
One afternoon talk with Daniels, and the next thing Ratliff knew, they were moving ahead on the project.
Daniels has lowered the barriers on getting patents and technology into the public sector.
"There are a lot of things going on he wants the public to benefit from, because that's our job, and he is really making it easier to do that," Ratliff said.
A lot of the current funding that the cancer center receives is from federal government grants. Every five years the center must reapply for the grants.
Boilermaker Health Innovations could help to add more money for research and offset any funding cuts they might have in their grants. During their last round of grant approvals they were not given as much money. For three years they limped along with the cuts slowing research progress. They were lucky enough to have the money reinstated and are now back to where they were financially.
The center takes a collaborative approach involving six different colleges. It has 97 researchers on staff and involves 19 different departments. Ratliff said they are on the cusp of so many breakthroughs in cancer treatment.
The center uses laser technology to tell if a cell is moving in people who are having chemotherapy. After one round of treatment they would be able to take a look at the cancer cells for movement to see if the drugs are working. If they are not doctors could change the drug regime right away instead of waiting three months for imaging. Patients would know in 24 hours.
They are also working on lowering the toxic side-effects of chemotherapy by being able to deliver the cancer drug specifically to the cancer cell. They have 13 drugs in clinical trials. Many of them are these targeted types of drug.
"It's sort of like a laser-guided missle by using bio-markers. Each cell has unique or high levels of particular proteins on its surface, which the drug will bind to," said Ratliff adding, "You can give much more lethal drugs and have much less toxicity than you have with standard chemotherapy."
Ratliff said he now knows of several people who have been successfully retreated as many as three time with different therapies for their breast cancer which has reoccurred every seven years.
"That's what we are trying to do is develop these new drugs so even if (the cancer returns) we have something to take care of it, make this a chronic disease if nothing else," Ratliff said.