July 7, 2016

Top pharmaceuticals development expert to help Purdue take drug discoveries to market

Thomas Verhoeven Thomas Verhoeven
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University has hired a top pharmaceutical industry expert to help its drug discovery team bridge the long and difficult gap from academic to clinical research - known as the "valley of death" - and more efficiently make new treatments available to patients.

Thomas Verhoeven, a former senior vice president of global product development and co-leader of the Development Center of Excellence at Eli Lilly and Co., joined Purdue as the President's Fellow for Pharmaceuticals Development and Partnerships on Friday (July 1).

The gap between a laboratory discovery and an approved drug on the market is a decade-long process of laboratory testing, evaluation in animal models and human clinical trials that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The gap is referred to as the "valley of death" because less than 5 percent of drug discoveries successfully pass each stage in the process, said Verhoeven, who also is a former laboratory scientist and senior vice president of global operations and strategic research planning at Merck and Co.

 "The journey from initial discovery to approved drug is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires passion, commitment and coordination among interdisciplinary partners," Verhoeven said. "Purdue embodies what is needed to be successful in this area. Purdue researchers are developing treatments for cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease, malaria and HIV. Through interdisciplinary teams and industry partnerships, the university has an astounding 17 potential drugs in human clinical trials, which far exceeds the standard benchmark for success at a research institution, but it is still looking for ways to improve and do more."

Purdue has focused on drug discovery as one of its key initiatives. The university currently has more than 45 compounds at various stages of preclinical development and 17 potential drugs in human clinical trials.

A key goal of the President's Fellow for Pharmaceuticals Development and Partnerships position will be to increase the number of potential treatment compounds entering pre-clinical and clinical trials, said Suresh Garimella, Purdue's executive vice president for research and partnerships.

"Dr. Verhoeven will assist, energize and accelerate the process of translation of our drug discoveries to the market," Garimella said. "He will work with faculty and staff to increase the impact of drug discovery at Purdue, which already is among the most productive universities in the world in this area. The creation of this position and our hiring of Dr. Verhoeven - a well-respected and nationally recognized talent in this field – signifies our commitment to pushing forward and pursuing world-changing research."

Purdue's strengths in drug discovery include the Purdue Institute for Drug Discovery with 114 affiliated researchers spanning 20 disciplines and the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research with 103 affiliated researchers spanning 21 disciplines.

In addition, Purdue's resources span the entire spectrum of drug discovery, including 14 core facilities to provide shared resources for analysis, screening, synthesis and testing of potential therapeutic compounds.

The university's recent $250 million investment in the life sciences and Pillars of Excellence in the Life Sciences Initiative also support the drug discovery initiative, enabling new positions, advanced instrumentation purchases and improvements to shared research facilities, Garimella said.

Verhoeven will work with faculty across the life sciences and with Purdue's Office of Technology Commercialization. He will promote research collaborations with industry partners, pursue corporate and federal funding for Purdue drug discovery research, advise faculty on ways to maximize drug development and commercialization opportunities, and consult with faculty and Purdue-developed startup companies on commercial strategy, said Dan Hasler, president of the Purdue Research Foundation and chief entrepreneurial officer.

"Purdue plays an important part in the life sciences industry. Indiana is the second-largest exporter of life sciences products in the U.S., and Purdue has a tremendous opportunity with some of the world's top pharmaceutical companies headquartered in the state," Hasler said. "Dr. Verhoeven will help us establish these partnerships and navigate the drug development process. The university and the state benefit from these partnerships, but, most importantly, work will be done that will improve lives all over the world."

Companies including Cook Medical, Dow AgroSciences, Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics, Baxter and Covance, and Mead Johnson all have headquarters or major operations in the state. In addition, nearly 1,700 companies throughout the state work in the life sciences sector, according to a BioCrossroads report.

Verhoeven, who holds more than 40 patents, earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan and his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. He was a National Institutes of Health fellow and postdoctoral research associate at Stanford University.

He began his career at Merck Research Laboratories, a division of Merck and Co., and had responsibilities in all phases of research and development during his 23 years there. He joined Eli Lilly and Co. in 2003 and held positions of vice president of product research and development, senior vice president of global product development and co-leader of the Development Center of Excellence before he retired in 2014. Verhoeven's biography is available at http://www.purdue.edu/research/staff/biographies.php?id=105

"The drug development process is complex and rigorous, but it also offers all who are involved in it a unique opportunity to have a positive impact in the lives of others," Verhoeven said. "I am excited to be able to work with the talented researchers at Purdue in finding ways to move their discoveries from the laboratory to patients as efficiently as possible." 

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu 

Sources: Thomas Verhoeven, 765-496-1019, tverhoev@purdue.edu

Suresh Garimella 765-494-6209, sureshg@purdue.edu

Dan Hasler, 765-588-3826, djhasler@prf.org

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