How Dana-Farber Leverages Partnerships to Advance Cancer Treatments

By Kaitlin Milliken |  May 14, 2021

At Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, doctors can turn to an electronic roadmap to help guide their patients’ oncology care. This digital tool, called Dana-Farber Pathways, lists the first line and additional treatment options for different types of cancer.

Lesley Solomon, SVP & Chief Innovation Officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

According to Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer Lesley Solomon, when she started at the institute three years ago, Pathways was only used in the main Dana-Farber hospital and its satellite offices. But today, through a partnership with Philips Healthcare, Dana-Farber Pathways guides healthcare providers to the best care options at medical centers worldwide. 

Pathways isn’t the only digital innovation that has been accelerated by a partnership. According to Solomon, Dana-Farber’s innovation office also is responsible for tech transfers, leveraging different types of partnerships to accelerate the time between a scientific breakthrough at the institute and real-world use. 

“Sometimes, that means collaborations with other academic institutions…biotech or pharma…[or] spinning out a company with a venture firm,” she explains. “In order for us to get science that has the potential to be a therapy, or a diagnostic, or even a software tool to a patient…we need to partner with an organization that plays that role in the spectrum.”

Finding the Right Partnerships 

When collaborating, Solomon explains that her team of 36 starts with partners who understand the oncology space and also prioritize speed to patients. She also says her team looks for partners that they would be willing to collaborate with over long periods. 

“A lot of times, we’re looking for a partner that’s willing to either share revenues with us, or fund some of the work upfront, because we need some of that funding to move our work forward,” Solomon says. 

When describing a strong partnership, Solomon points to Dana-Farber’s experience with Deerfield Management, a healthcare-focused investment firm. The firm dedicated up to $80 million in funding to Dana-Farber’s Center for Protein Degradation in 2019, and has committed to spend up to $130 million to fund work across the a range of scientific areas at Dana-Farber over the next 10 years.

Spin-outs and Venture Investing 

When the team at Dana-Farber has a treatment or technology offering, the cancer institute may decide to form a new startup. “Usually, venture firms will come to us, or will come to our faculty members and say, ‘We want to license this science and turn it into a new company,'” Solomon explains. Then, Solomon says, her team works with the venture firm to negotiate a relationship between the two entities, resulting in a spin-out. 

In 2020 alone, the company spun out five startups. That included Neomorph, a company that focuses on unlocking previously undruggable protein sites for therapeutic treatments. Neomorph, which has founders from Dana-Farber, launched in December of 2020 with $109 million in Series A funding, according to Dana-Farber’s website.  

However, Solomon says, her team over the last few years “realized there’s more potential for Dana-Farber to be more of a participant in these companies.” In response, in January, her team launched its own internal venture fund, Binney Street Capital. 

“The idea is that we’ll invest in companies that are spinning out of Dana-Farber, or that have Dana-Farber founders,” Solomon says. “Some companies will start with a Dana-Farber founder…[other startups have Dana-Farber] intellectual property, so we can support both of those.”

The fund seeks to invest in six to eight early-stage startups over its first three years. According to Solomon, investments will range from $250,000 to $2 million during this period.