Last spring, veteran pharmaceutical executive and entrepreneur William
Polvino, MD, was tapped as CEO of Bridge Medicines, a company established in October 2016 to further development of drugs nurtured by the
Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute. The Tri-I TDI, as
it’s known, is a nonprofit that brings together Weill Cornell Medicine,
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, The Rockefeller University, and
Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. to support investigations into
promising therapeutics pioneered by investigators on the three campuses.
Headquartered in the Belfer Research Building, Bridge Medicines is a collaborative effort by the TDI partners and two investment firms, Deerfield
Management and Bay City Capital.
Polvino has more than a quarter-century of experience in pharma,
having held senior positions at firms such as Merck and Wyeth and
served as president and CEO of Veloxis Pharmaceuticals and Helsinn
Therapeutics. An alumnus of Rutgers Medical School, he trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and did a fellowship in
clinical pharmacology at the NIH.
It’s early days for Bridge Medicines, but how is it going so far?
It’s wonderful. We’re extensively reviewing the portfolio of molecules that are maturing out of the Tri-I TDI and meeting a number
of the promising investigators at the three institutions to develop
A conversation with Bridge Medicines CEO William Polvino, MD
William Polvino, MD
closer ties and let them know about the resources available at TDI
and Bridge Medicines. So I spend a lot of my time walking back and
forth across the street; it’s only two blocks, but I know every crack
in the sidewalk.
why are enterprises like Bridge Medicines and TDI essential
to today’s drug-development pipeline?
Almost all drugs get their start from a discovery or invention,
often in a university setting. But for many investigators, aspects
of drug development are costly, time-consuming distractions from
what they’re best at. TDI and Bridge Medicines put the skill of a
biotechnology or pharmaceutical company on the campuses of
three great institutions. This enables a fast path and high level of
communication between inventors—the clinicians and scientists
who are brilliant at what they do—and people who have devoted
their careers to navigating the drug development, regulatory, and
clinical trial paths.
Could you describe how Bridge Medicines takes TDI into
subsequent steps of drug development?
By the time a product leaves TDI, the molecule is essentially
defined and its pharmacology has been demonstrated to be active
in a relevant animal model. Bridge Medicines picks up from there;
we manufacture a sufficient quantity of drug at high purity, with
quality controls in place such that it can be used to open an investigational new drug (IND) application, which is filed with the FDA
to enable you to do clinical studies. Our job, in short, is to move a
drug from the candidate stage to the IND stage, and hopefully into
early clinical trials as well. We view TDI and Bridge Medicines as a
relay race, where the second runner has to be at full speed when the
first one hands off the baton. Everything is on a clock defined by
the patent law, which provides a fixed amount of time during which
you can recover the costs of transforming an invention into a new
medicine. That clock starts ticking the day you file the invention
patent—even though you may be years away from a product—and
it continues to run whether or not you’re making progress. So if
something is not moving forward, it’s losing value.
how does Bridge Medicines fit into twenty-first century
academic medicine? why would bench and translational
scientists want to be part of it?
Bridge Medicines is a revolution. It’s something that has never
existed before—a pre-fueled racecar, if you will, ready to go with
the inventions as they come out of academia, and funded to do the
work. I’ve been a CEO for two other companies and have raised
several hundred million dollars in my career; it is extremely time
consuming and you can’t move projects forward as quickly as you