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Orphans' matchmaker

The London-based charity Wellcome Trust launched a new scheme to fund industry-academia collaborations in orphan and neglected diseases. The Pathfinder Awards will provide up to £100,000 ($159,000) for four projects a year, and private partners will match the money. The aim is to de-risk and kick-start promising projects deemed too early for other funding models. The projects funded are those likely to lead to innovative products—from biologics and vaccines to software solutions. The first two awards were announced in September. One is the development of a human pluripotent stem cell line by Lilly of Indianapolis and University College London to study the disease mechanisms of the disorder 'neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation'. The other project is a study of the enzyme affected in homocystinuria by researchers at Pfizer of New York and the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford University. “The Pathfinder Awards are an excellent vehicle for stimulating academic-industrial collaborations in areas of medical need that are not given much attention either academically or industrially,” says Steve Projan, senior vice president of R&D at MedImmune, Gaithersburg, Maryland. In the scheme, an academic lead builds on or establish a partnership with a company with specialist knowledge and technologies. After 18 months, it is hoped the project will attract further investment. The partners can negotiate collaboration terms, but the company would typically have first refusal to further development, according to Bethan Hughes, who manages the Pathfinder scheme.

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Dorey, E. Orphans' matchmaker. Nat Biotechnol 30, 1156 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt1212-1156

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