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Cancer researcher awarded first project under Deerfield, Hopkins partnership

A cancer researcher has been awarded the first project under a new collaboration between investment firm Deerfield Management and The Johns Hopkins University designed to help bring more medical treatment and drugs to market.

Dr. Marikki Laiho, director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s division of molecular radiation sciences, and her team have been awarded an undisclosed amount of money to support research testing a pathway that when blocked kills cancer cells while causing little harm to other cells.

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Under the agreement the researchers will get scientific, financial and operational support to allow them to further their research and hopefully bring it to human clinical trials. The hope is that the support eventually might lead to the development of a targeted drug.

Deerfield and Hopkins announced their investment partnership in November, creating an entity called Bluefield Innovations to fund early-stage research projects on drugs that may show promise as a treatment but aren't yet ready for human trials.

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A joint steering committee of representatives from Johns Hopkins and Deerfield selected Laiho’s research. The initial five-year term of Bluefield Innovations will provide support and funding to approximately a dozen Johns Hopkins faculty and researchers.

The investment from New York-based Deerfield Management comes as government funding for scientific research continues to decline and drug companies remain cautious about which studies they choose to invest in. Many funders want proof of a drug's potential before they invest. Investments like Deerfield’s offer research institutions like Hopkins an alternative to funding basic scientific inquiry that traditionally has been funded by the federal government through the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation.

Deerfield Management, which also invests in early-stage and other health care companies, reached a similar deal in October to spend $50 million to fund research at the Broad Institute, a collaborative health science effort of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in the Boston area.

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