Regina Kelder, Ian Linney

Virtual Companies: Rising in the Marketplace (Video)

How CROs have become vital partners in helping push forward novel ideas

When we think of modern-day pharmaceutical development, we usually think of large companies with enormous infrastructures bringing new products to market. While this is still true, the field is also filling up with much smaller players, mid-techs and small start-ups and even virtual companies, the subject of this video story.

Virtual companies are emerging as a contemporary method of workplace efficiency. They follow a model that employees fewer than 50 people and outsource most operations, case by case, to third-party organizations such as a contract research organization. “A virtual company is a company that has no infrastructure to any wet science,” says Ian Linney, PhD, Research Leader, Medicinal Chemistry with Charles River's Early Discovery team. “They have no labs so they do not do any web biology, chemistry or DMPK studies that would be required to prosecute the drug discovery target.  So they would come to us to do that wet work … to and to push idea they have into a potential drug.

May virtual companies are profit-making companies that have funding and an idea that they want to take forward. But prominent academic companies are also in the mix. Linney said they may have identified a promising protein that shows promise in an animal model and so they turn that idea into a company to take the idea forward.

“The clients in the last 5-10 years seem to be more oncology, and particularly immuno-oncology driven,” says Linney, possibly because this area already has many validated targets.

One company Charles River has been working with is Nimbus Therapeutics, which is based in Cambridge, MA. In the past, Nimbus had outsourced work to numerous CROS, but about three years ago they approached Charles River about putting an entire project under one umbrella organization. “They had an idea represented in the literature in terms of a particular target, but needed our assistance in setting up the biology assays to investigate that target, generate the chemical model and determining what in vivo system to set up,” says Linney, adding that the project has now reached late lead optimization with the identification of a variety of candidates that fulfill biochemical potency. “We are looking at profiling those candidates in later studies,” says Linney.

Nimbus and Charles River are co-authors on an e-poster being presented this week at the virtual AACR meeting, which gets underway June 22. The poster looks at inhibitors of HPK1, a protein kinase that dampens T cell responses in tumor cells. To learn more about how virtual companies work, check out the video interview with Linney that accompanies this story.

Check out these other stories and videos from AACR 2020 and to learn more about Charles River’s presence at AACR 2020 check out this site.