That should help finance continued research at Scripps, whose 2017 revenues bounced up again after declining from 2015-2016, and to retain the approximately 500 employees that work for the institute in Jupiter, top executives say.
Following the spinoff earlier this month of Expansion Therapeutics, Scripps’ executives Doug Bingham and Matthew Tremblay told the Sun Sentinel that there is at least one more deal as large as Expansion’s $55 million venture capital draw, as well as more development of drugs and companies in-house on the way.
Expansion Therapeutics, which has been Scripps’ largest spinoff since the South Florida institute was founded, is producing a drug for patients with muscular dystrophy — and the technology has the potential to address other diseases as well, Bingham said.
A second spinoff this month is Calm Therapeutics, which is developing a potential treatment for a genetic disorder that causes insatiable hunger, often leading to disability in children as they grow. Through local donor support, the company is being developed internally at Scripps, instead of through an outside partnership.
The new companies and potential drugs, together with Scripps’ past successes — including contributions to blockbuster drug Humira and new drug Ozanimod — will be generating royalties for Scripps, though the institute won’t disclose how much.
Ozanimod, a potential blockbuster drug to treat multiple sclerosis, was developed in a Scripps lab. Scripps then partnered with New Jersey-based Celgene Corp. for clinical trials. The drug, shown to reduce disease relapses and inhibit brain atrophy, could be on the market later this year. Sales estimates are in the billions, industry analysts say.
Also boosting business development is Scripps’ 2016 affiliation with the California Institute for Biomedical Research in La Jolla. Tremblay was a founder of that institute and now is working with Scripps on translating discoveries into therapies that help patients and businesses that can commercialize drugs.
To get potential products to the market, Scripps is spinning off companies, seeking development partners, as well as developing drugs and companies in-house.
“One path forward is getting attention of world-class investors and folks who are willing to put not just their money but their time [into a startup],” said Tremblay, Scripps’ vice president for business development.
That happened with Expansion Therapeutics, which raised $55 million in venture capital. The spinoff is working on a drug for muscular dystrophy based on technology developed in chemist Matthew Disney’s Scripps Florida lab.
The Disney lab’s discoveries could lead to a pipeline of drugs.
Bingham, Scripps’ general counsel and executive vice president who oversees the Florida site, said Expansion Therapeutics is lucky that “there’s not only a potential cure for a disease, but it is a platform that can find cures for other diseases.” Those include Crohn’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, digestive diseases that afflict millions of people.
When there is technology that can address a number of diseases, a company is able to partner with big pharmaceutical companies or other entities to develop the drugs, which further increases the business value, he said.
There have been fewer than 10 spinoffs from Scripps Florida, and many of them have been acquired or have moved away from Palm Beach County or the state.
So Tremblay said one of the key criteria in the Expansion Therapeutics deal was to ensure a portion of the research would stay at Scripps.
Still, operating a spinoff internally, such as Calm Therapeutics, gives Scripps the most control.
Calm Therapeutics came about through the passion of South Florida investors seeking treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome, the genetic disorder that results in insatiable hunger. To sponsor a fellowship at Scripps Florida, more than $1 million has been raised by Ira and Ronnie Levine of Palm Beach Gardens, and Harold and Jill Wilkinson, formerly of South Florida, for the Josilyn’s Faith Foundation — named after the Levines’ granddaughter.
That fellow, Scripps Florida researcher Cristina Grande, had a breakthrough about a year ago. “She found a compound that has various effects on symptoms of the disease,” said Patricia McDonald, who now oversees the lab.
Ira Levine has been working since his granddaughter was born 15 years ago to raise money for research. He finally connected with Scripps Florida, and now is working with the newly created company to take it through investigative trials toward potentially marketing a drug.
“I’ve been hopeful from the first day,” said Levine, of a treatment for his granddaughter. Now, “I’m cautiously optimistic. I never thought I would get to the day where we had something that was promising.”
Scripps Florida, which had its genesis in a push by former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature, faced early criticism for not fulfilling the big economic growth some expected in the region. Palm Beach County and the state invested more than $600 million in taxpayer-backed incentives to bring The Scripps Research Institute to the area, with the idea that it would swell the state’s biotech industry and create higher-paying science and technology jobs.
The jobs were created, but Bingham said some of the expectations were “misinformed.”
“The research endeavor is a long game, it’s not a short game. People who thought we were going to march in here and start spinning out companies right and left within the first year were misinformed about what it takes to do that and how science in general works,” he said.
Scripps’ audited revenues were $367.9 million in 2017. That compared with $347.5 million in 2016, down from $366 million in 2015.
But Scripps has been happy with the venture output at the Jupiter-based institute, which has been on par with the longer-established Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., Bingham and Tremblay said.
Now, with a stronger focus on translating discoveries to drugs, “this moment in Scripps’ growth is a good time to tap into the significant investment that was made here,” Tremblay said.