Autobahn Alliance

Partnership with Autobahn Labs Aims to Pave Road Through ‘Valley of Death’ Faced by Novel Therapies

Through its Office of Innovation Ventures, UC San Francisco has formalized a new strategic collaboration with Autobahn Labs, a “virtual incubator” focused on drug discovery and development, to help move scientific discoveries with therapeutic potential more quickly to market.

“The goal of Innovation Ventures is to help UCSF faculty and students transition their innovations from the lab to the marketplace, where they can do the most good,” said Barry Selick, PhD, vice chancellor for business development, innovation and partnerships. “Partnering with Autobahn Labs will allow us to bridge our extensive scientific expertise with their experience in drug development to get the best therapies out there quickly for patient benefit.”

Thomas Novak, PhD, chief scientific officer of Autobahn Labs, said, “UCSF combines world-class medicine, cutting-edge research, and a strong track record of innovation in drug discovery. We’re excited to partner with UCSF to identify and develop meaningful new therapies for patients.”

Autobahn Labs will work with scientists via UCSF Innovation Ventures to help identify promising preclinical science, invest resources to efficiently move projects through an established drug discovery pipeline — from feasibility studies to novel drug candidates — and ultimately form jointly owned ventures to accelerate the translation of scientific ideas to novel therapeutics.

“My group has been working to advance our research on small-molecule inhibitor compounds towards a novel therapeutic for cancer,” said Michelle Arkin, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. “I’m eager for this partnership to help provide the experience and expertise to develop compounds with drug-like properties that will help carry our project over the so-called ‘valley of death’” — a term referring to the often insurmountable financial, regulatory, scientific and technical hurdles that slow the development of promising molecules discovered in academic labs into safe and effective drugs that can be used in patients.

Autobahn Labs was launched in June, 2020 as a partnership between Samsara BioCapital, a leading life sciences investment firm; Evotec SE, a global drug discovery alliance and development partnership company; and KCK Ltd., a family investment fund. The collaboration between Autobahn and UCSF builds upon Evotec’s “BRIDGE” (Biomedical Research, Innovation & Development Generation Efficiency) model for translating early-stage academic research into drug discovery and development. 

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to bring UCSF’s renowned faculty together with Evotec’s sophisticated drug discovery infrastructure and expertise as well as an experienced network of drug developers and investors,” said Michelle Kim-Danely, PhD, senior vice president of operations for Autobahn Labs. “UCSF has a wealth of compelling early-stage programs that we look forward to developing in close collaboration with their researchers.”

UCSF Innovation Ventures will work with any UCSF researcher with an early-stage therapeutic that has reached the limits of its development in an academic setting, assessing the potential for further development of the discovery through the Autobahn Labs business model. For projects of interest, Autobahn Labs would then collaborate with the UCSF scientists to advance the technology, typically at Evotec. Autobahn has an option to license any of such technology and to develop a spinoff startup, which in turn would be incubated by Samsara BioCapital.

The agreement creates an opportunity for UCSF scientists to advance early-stage technologies that may cannot be fully developed in a purely academic environment. With the Autobahn agreement, each therapeutic or device that moves out of preclinical trials could move forward under the umbrella of its own startup company, taking the technologies forward to help patients more quickly and efficiently than is typically possible within the walls of the University itself.