With the selection of Perry Nisen as its new chief executive officer today, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is signaling a commitment to its new long-term strategic vision of open collaboration for the development of breakthrough clinical drugs.
The institute, with a headquarters in La Jolla, Calif., and a major research laboratory in Orlando's Lake Nona Medical City, is introducing Nisen today, filling a leadership void left vacant for 18 months.
Nisen, 59, comes to Sanford-Burnham from the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, where he was senior vice president of science and innovation. He also has an academic background; he was professor of neuro-oncology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
At GlaxoSmithKline Nisen oversaw that firm's new drug development science. He also lead that company's efforts to open much of its research data to the world in order to encourage independent research into medical breakthroughs. The effort, begun in 2012, has spurred other pharmaceutical companies to also begin opening their commercial research data to the outside.
Nisen said he sees a unique opportunity available at Sanford-Burnham, with both pieces of the drug-development puzzle – academic research into disease and real-world commercial development of drugs.
He said "the future of breakthrough medicine is going to necessitate new models" and that he sees those models coming together at Sanford-Burnham.
"I've lived in both worlds. I started my career in academia, both in basic science and in clinical medicine. And I've also lived the challenges in industry in terms of being able to access the science, especially in the areas of more high-risk and uncertainty. I see the risks and challenges of making the partnerships and connections," he said. "What I saw at Sanford-Burnham is this potential of a hybrid model. ... That is not something that exists in academia."
And Sanford-Burnham officials said that's why they wanted him.
"Sanford-Burnham will expand its efforts to cross the traditional boundary between academic research and commercialization," the institute's board chairman, Gregory Lucier, stated in a release.
In January the institute announced its new 10-year strategic vision that essentially calls for more commercial partnerships to speed up the traditionally long road from laboratory breakthroughs to patient therapies.
Nisen will be based in California. The Lake Nona institute opened in 2007. The 223-person Orlando staff includes 165 scientists researching causes and treatments for diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular complications and cancer, and projects the staff to grow another 25 percent.
Lake Nona Scientific Director Dr. Daniel Kelly praised Nisen for helping launch the era of open commercial research data, as well as for his efforts in collaborations with outside groups.
"He has a tremendous expertise and success in partnering, and did so at GlaxoSmithKline," Kelly said.
Nisen said he is interested in expanding and duplicating the model Sanford-Burnham has developed with Florida Hospital through the new Transitional Research Institute on the hospital's campus. That TRI allows the hospital and Sanford-Burnham to share research data and ideas in the treatment of real patients.
"That clinical link is critical," he said.
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