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Biogen Idec, Four Universities Partner on ALS Therapies

Illustration of brain (NIDA)

(National Institute of Drug Abuse)

Biogen Idec, a biotechnology company in Weston, Massachusetts, will collaborate with researchers from Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Rockefeller universities to identify new treatment strategies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The company says it is committing $10 million over three years to the research consortium.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rapidly progressive neurological disease, usually fatal, that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles, characterized by the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says ALS is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected. As many as 20,000 to 30,000 people in the U.S. have ALS, says the agency, and an estimated 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease each year.

The collaboration will bring together six researchers at the four institutions and be led by Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, Biogen Idec’s chief scientist and professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School. The consortium members will meet regularly, sharing information and insights from their research with related results from Biogen Idec. This level of collaboration, says the company, is expected to encourage researchers to apply others’ learnings to their own efforts more quickly.

Researchers participating in the project are:

- Pietro De Camilli, professor of cell biology and neurobiology at Yale University and Director of the Yale Program in Cellular Neuroscience and Neurodegeneration and Repair.

- Wade Harper, professor of molecular pathology at Harvard Medical School.

- Christopher Henderson, professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine, pathology, neurology and neuroscience at Columbia University, director of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative, co-director of the Center for Motor Neuron Biology and Disease, and co-director of Project A.L.S. Laboratory for Stem Cell Research at Columbia University.

- Arthur Horwich, professor of genetics and pediatrics and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Yale School of Medicine.

- Lee Rubin, professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, and director of translational medicine at the Harvard University Stem Cell Institute.

- Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President of Rockefeller University, and director of its Laboratory of Brain Development and Repair.

Artavanis-Tsakonas hopes assembling a group from varying disciplines will generate synergies between academic and company research that lead to treatment candidates for ALS. “We believe that taking a holistic approach that explores the many variables involved in the development and progression of ALS,” says Artavanis-Tsakonas, “will speed our ability to identify viable drug targets that can be moved into testing.”

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Hat tip: FirstWord Pharma

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