HMS, Pharma Co. Join Forces

Millenium Pharmaceuticals to put up $1.5M in return for research rights

Hand in hand, Harvard Medical School and Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc. are one step closer to finding potential cancer treatments.

Harvard and Millennium, a biopharmaceutical company, announced an agreement last Thursday to jointly advance research initiatives in protein homeostasis, considered a rapidly emerging area of cancer biology.

For the next three years, Medical School Professor J. Wade Harper and his laboratory will collaborate with Millennium to study the field and its role in regulating cancer cells, according to a Millenium press release.

“Millennium has positioned itself to be a leader in the protein homeostasis field,” Harper said in a phone interview. “They have unique resources that will really help us move forward in an in-depth level and trade off ideas and resources to propel the field forward.”

Under the terms of the deal, Millennium will provide funding and resources for collaborative interaction between the two institutions. In return, the Medical School’s Office of Technology Development (OTD) granted Millennium a license to Harper’s laboratory, meaning that the pharmaceutical company will own intellectual property rights to any collaborative discoveries and will take the research towards the clinical-trial phase.

Millennium will be putting up $1.5 million in funding over the three years, according to an individual familiar with the terms of the agreement.

When asked for confirmation about the terms, OTD Director of Business Development Michal Preminger, who was responsible for arranging the deal, declined to comment on the financial terms.

“Millennium has a policy of not disclosing the terms of the agreement, and as a large stakeholder in this agreement, we would like to respect that,” Preminger said.

Harper also declined to comment, citing Millennium’s policy.

According to Millennium’s Chief Scientific Officer Joseph B. Bolen, the Cambridge-based pharmaceutical company has had an extensive interaction with the Medical School over the past decade, though no previous arrangement has been of this magnitude.

Bolen said that the newly announced agreement is different from most deals between companies and academic institutions, which are generally restricted to funding research.

“What I was looking for in this was to craft a new kind of academic industry interaction based on true collaboration and not just a transfer of money,” Bolen said. “We will be working hand-in-hand with Dr. Harper’s lab.”

Unlike most deals between researchers and for-profit companies, conflict-of-interest restrictions do not apply in this case, according to Preminger.

Because Harper is not involved with clinical trials, he does not have a financial interest in Millennium. 

“This is a great new model for how to really do things,” Bolen said. “I am very confident that it will be wildly successful.” 

—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at junewu@fas.harvard.edu.