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Alliance to Collect Mobile Health Data for Clinical Trials

iPhone

(JEShoots, Pixabay)

21 July 2015. A partnership between health technology companies developing cloud-based solutions aims to make it easier to collect data from a wide range of mobile apps for clinical studies. Financial aspects of the agreement between digital health platform company Validic and clinical research technology company Medidata were not disclosed.

Validic, in Durham, North Carolina, provides a platform for connecting data collected from patient remote monitoring systems, wellness apps, fitness equipment, mobile sensors, and wearable devices with their health care provider customers, such as hospitals and clinics, as well as insurance companies, fitness clubs, and pharmaceutical companies. The company says it provides customers with a single connection to data from this wide variety and large number of sources, collecting data from more than 175 different apps, devices, and remote systems and an estimated 160 million individual clients. Validic says its platform meets privacy and reliability standards set by regulatory agencies, e.g. FDA and HIPAA.

Medidata, based in New York City, through its Clinical Cloud service, offers an online system for design, planning, management, and reporting clinical trials. According to the company, its Patient Cloud, part of the overall Clinical Cloud system, can harness mobile data which reduces data collection errors from using paper forms and increase patient compliance in less complex studies. As a result, many trials can recruit fewer participants and reduce the time needed for data analysis and reporting.

Under the agreement, health and wellness information collected by systems and devices connected to the Validic platform will be made available to Medidata for clinical trials. Data from Validic will be mapped to the Medidata Clinical Cloud format, adding to traditional clinical trial data such as lab results, vital signs, and adverse events.

In a company statement, Medidata’s president Glen de Vries calls the agreement “a big step toward realizing the potential of mobile health in clinical research because it offers life sciences organizations the flexibility to select the mHealth tools that provide the most clinically meaningful information for specific patient populations.”

In November 2014, Medidata and drug maker GlaxoSmithKline completed an evaluation of mobile health devices in clinical trials. The results, say the companies, show mobile technologies can securely capture large volumes of data with mobile devices and provide real-time insights into the health of trial participants. The data collected in the assessment were audited and found compliant with FDA regulations. In addition, the use of mobile data can reduce burdens on trial participants by streamlining routine procedures and reducing visits to trial sites.

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Trial Shows Engineered T-Cells Act on Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma cells

Multiple myeloma characterized by immature plasma cells (National Library of Medicine, NIH)

21 July 2015. An early-stage clinical trial shows immune system cells from patients with the blood-related cancer multiple myeloma — modified to attack a protein suspected of helping the cancer grow — generated a positive clinical response in most of the participants. The team from University of Pennsylvania cancer center, University of Maryland medical school, and biotechnology company AdaptImmune Therapeutics published its findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Medicine (paid subscription required).

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, white blood cells helping fight infections by making antibodies that recognize invading germs. The disorder causes cancerous cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, crowding out healthy plasma cells. Instead of antibodies, the malfunctioning cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that cause kidney problems. American Cancer Society expects nearly 27,000 new cases of multiple myeloma to occur in the U.S. this year, causing more than 11,000 deaths.

AdaptImmune, in Oxford, U.K. and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, develops cancer therapies harnessing a patient’s own white blood cells in the immune system known as T-cells. The company’s technology enhances T-cells from their natural state by adding a new gene with more sensitive receptors targeting proteins specifically associated with the patient’s cancer. AdaptImmune was one of the funders of the trial, with National Institutes of Health and Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

The targets in this case are NY-ESO-1, an antibody generating protein or antigen found in 60 percent of individuals with multiple myeloma, and associated with cancer cell growth, and an associated antigen LAGE-1. The engineered T-cells are cultured and reproduced in the lab, then infused back to the patient as a therapy, following a transplant of a patient’s own hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cells.

The clinical trial tested engineered T-cell therapy among 20 patients at University of Pennsylvania and University of Maryland medical centers with multiple myeloma, where their disease is not responding to treatment or relapsed. Participants received on average some 2.4 billion engineered T-cells, 2 days after the stem cell transplants.

The study looked primarily at the safety and tolerability of the therapy, particularly for cytokine-release syndrome and macrophage activation syndrome, two adverse reactions associated with immune therapies, that result in fever, nausea, chills, abnormally low blood pressure, and rapid heart rate, among other symptoms. The authors report the treatments were well tolerated, with none of the participants experiencing either of those conditions.

The trial looked as well at activity of the engineered T-cells in the patients. The results show the T-cells travel to the patients’ bone marrow, site of the tumors, and in 18 of the 20 cases stayed there for 2 years following their infusions. And 14 of the 20 participants experienced a complete or near complete response in the 3 months following the treatments.

As of April 2015, with a median follow-up time of 30 months, the median progression-free survival time — amount of time without the disease getting worse — was 19.1 months and median overall survival was 32.1 months. In cases of relapse, say the authors, the patients reported a loss of the modified T-cells, pointing to the need for better measures to improve persistence of the therapy.

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Navy Seeks Graphene Nanoribbons for Electricity Distribution

USS Zumwalt

All electric-powered Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer (U.S. Navy, courtesy of General Dynamics)

20 July 2015. The U.S. Navy wants a more efficient way to distribute electric power on its ships, and believes ultrathin ribbons made of graphene may help them do it. The Office of Naval Research awarded an $800,000 grant to the lab led by engineering professor Cemal Basaran at University at Buffalo to find out more about graphene nanoribbons for electric power switching.

The Navy is become more interested in electric energy to power its ships and weapons, as well as support systems and devices on the ships. In October 2013, the Navy launched the first of its Zumwalt class destroyers, propelled by electric motors rather than combustion engines, and is designing electronic weapons systems, such as lasers and railguns that use electromagnetic currents to fire long-range projectiles.

This growing reliance on electric power is encouraging the Navy to look into more efficient ways of distributing power around these ships and to these systems. Today’s technologies use copper wires and transformers, which are inefficient, require more components, and generate a great deal of heat.

Graphene, on the other hand, is a material closely related to graphite like that used in pencils, but consists of only a single layer of carbon atoms arrayed in a hexagonal mesh pattern. The material is very light, strong, chemically stable, and can conduct both heat and electricity, with applications in fields such as electronics, energy, and health care. Greater efficiency in moving power can mean better system performance, less reliance on fossil fuels, and savings to the taxpayer.

In the four-year project, Basaran and colleagues will investigate using nanoscale ribbons made from graphene as the medium for distributing power in these advanced ships and weapons. Basaran, director of Buffalo’s Electronic Packaging Lab and the project’s principal investigator, says in a university statement, “We need to develop new nanomaterials capable of handling greater amounts of energy densities in much smaller devices. Graphene nanoribbons show remarkable promise in this endeavor.”

The researchers plan to test the capabilities of graphene nanoribbons through complex power-switching simulations. The team expects as well to find the failure limits of graphene nanoribbons under high power loads, and seek ways of raising those limits. Among the ways of improving the performance of nanoribbons is chemically enhancing the graphene with hydrogen or other elements, which the Buffalo team plans to explore.

Basaran notes that graphene production methods make it easier to alter its composition if needed. “The beauty of graphene is that it can be grown like biological organisms as opposed to manufacturing materials with traditional techniques,” says Basaran. “These bio-inspired materials allow us to control their atomic organizations like controlling genetic DNA makeup of a lab-grown cell.”

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Early Test Shows Alzheimer’s Candidate Lowers Brain Deposits

Neurofilaments

(Gerry Shaw, EnCor Biotechnology Inc./Wikimedia Commons)

20 July 2015. A drug developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease reduced a large percentage of accumulated harmful peptides and proteins in brains of laboratory mice induced with the disorder. Results of the tests were reported today by the biotechnology company Treventis Corp. in Philadelphia, developer of the drug code-named TRV-101.

Alzheimer’s disease is progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting growing numbers of older people worldwide. The disorder slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills, eventually affecting the ability to carry out even simple day-to-day tasks. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America estimates some 5.1 million people in the U.S. may have Alzheimer’s disease, including a 500,000 under the age of 65. In families with Alzheimer’s disease, 1 to 4 individuals act as caregivers.

People with Alzheimer’s disease often have deposits of abnormal substances in spaces between brain cells, known as beta-amyloid peptides, as well as misfolded tangles of proteins inside brain cells known as tau. Beta-amyloid peptides accumulate in spaces between brain cells in aggregate formations known as oligomers. As the oligomer accumulations enlarge they interfere with synapses and receptors on neighboring cells, affecting their ability to function. It is not yet conclusively established, however, if beta-amyloid deposits are the result of Alzheimer’s disease or a cause of it.

Tau is a protein containing phosphate molecules found in healthy brain cells that stabilize the support channels inside the cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, however, tau proteins gain more phosphate molecules, causing them to break off and accumulate inside the brain cells, becoming tangled in thread-like formations. These formations can change the three-dimensional shape of the protein, a process known as misfolding, that damage the support channels in brain cells, impairing their ability to signal other brain cells.

Treventis says TRV-101 is a small molecule, or low molecular weight, compound designed to be taken orally that counteracts accumulations of beta-amyloid and tau. The company says the drug candidate was discovered through its own computational model that simulates self-associating accumulations and protein misfolding, with potential effectiveness of TRV-101 highlighted in lab tests, including tests with animals.

In the tests reported today, lab mice induced with Alzheimer’s disease were fed TRV-101 over 3 to 7-day periods. Treventis says the mice were found to have 30 to 40 percent lower levels of beta-amyloid oligomers and tau deposits after the test periods. In addition, the mice did not show ill effects from the treatments.

Treventis Corp. was founded by two Canadian scientists, Sultan Darvesh at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Donald Weaver, director of Toronto Western Research Institute. Weaver continues at the company’s chairman. Early development of TRV-101 is supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust, with a first clinical trial planned for next year.

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Drug Delivery Biotech Raises $101.8 Million in IPO

Wall Street sign

(A. Kotok)

17 July 2015. Chiasma Inc., a biotechnology enterprise developing oral therapies to replace injected drugs, raised some $101.8 million in its initial public stock offering. The company — located in Newton, Massachusetts and Jerusalem, Israel — issued 6,365,000 shares at $16.00, and trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol CHMA. Shares in the company closed today (17 July) at $20.00, after rising to $22.60 immediately after issuance the day before.

Chiasma develops therapies in pill or capsule form which were previously available only as injections. The company’s technology, known as transient permeability enhancer, creates a protective medium for therapeutic peptides or small molecule proteins in the form of of solid water-seeking particles suspended in an oily water-phobic medium. With the transient permeability enhancer, says Chiasma, therapy payloads can withstand the rigors of the human gastrointestinal system, yet be delivered to the blood stream intact, in their native active form.

The company’s lead product is a capsule formulation of the drug octreotide to treat acromegaly, a disorder that results from too much growth hormone, made by the pituitary, a small gland in the brain. The disease is most often diagnosed in middle-aged adults, although symptoms, usually abnormal growth of the hands and feet, can appear at any age. If left untreated, acromegaly can result in serious illness — type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis — and premature death.

Octreotide is a peptide drug to control acromegaly symptoms and is given as an injection in the buttocks. Immediate acting octreotide is administered 4 times a day, while an extended release form of the drug is given once every 4 weeks. Chiasma says its octreotide capsules work like the natural hormone somatostatin by binding to receptors in the pituitary gland that regulate production of growth hormone.

The company says it completed a late-stage clinical trial of octreotide capsules with people having acromegaly, and submitted last month an application for review by FDA. Chiasma is conducting a similar trial in Europe in preparation for regulatory review there. The company plans to test octreotide capsules with related neuroendocrine tumors, and extend the transient permeability enhancer technology to other disorders where patients require frequent injections.

In February 2013, Chiasma licensed its octreotide capsule technology to the pharmaceutical company Roche, which provided an upfront payment of $65 million and made Chiasma eligible for milestone payments worth another $530 million. The deal calls for Roche to commercialize octreotide capsules after completion of clinical trials and regulatory submissions.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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Wireless System Developed to Deliver Drugs to Brain

Brain map illustration

(Arthur Toga, UCLA/NIH.gov)

17 July 2015. Engineers and medical researchers designed and tested in animals a system that implants drugs for the brain in ultra-thin optical cables, then triggers their release through wireless signals. The proof-of-concept system, developed at Washington University in St. Louis and University of Illinois in Urbana, is described in yesterday’s issue of the journal Cell (paid subscription required).

Teams from the labs of Washington University’s Michael Bruchas, professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology, and materials science and engineering professor John Rogers at Illinois, developed the technology for improving treatments of neurological disorders such as epilepsy, depression, addiction, and chronic pain. Previous efforts to deliver drugs to the brain with remote activation use hard-wired connections and tubes connected to external pumps, which limit their utility.

Like earlier attempts, the system designed by Bruchas, Rogers, and colleagues delivers therapies to precise areas of the brain where needed, enhancing their efficacy and reducing side effects. This system, however, is activated wirelessly with microscale inorganic light-emitting diodes designed to respond to infrared signals. The device is built with ultra-thin, soft cellular-scale cables containing microfluidic channels and chambers to store the compounds.

When activated, the inorganic LEDs warm a thermal-sensitive layer in the cable that expands to pump the stored compounds through the channels to adjacent brain cells. In addition to delivering drugs, the device can also transmit light signals to the brain.

Co-first author Jae-Woong Jeong, former postdoctoral researcher at Illinois and now on the engineering faculty at University of Colorado in Boulder, says in a Washington University statement, “The device embeds microfluid channels and microscale pumps, but it is soft like brain tissue and can remain in the brain and function for a long time without causing inflammation or neural damage.”

The researchers tested the devices, implanting the tiny cables in the brains of mice. Among the tests, the researchers implanted the device on one side of brain in the area of nerve cells controlling movement. Once activated, the device released a drug causing the mice to move in circles.

In a more complex test, the researchers used the photostimulation capabilities of the device to activate light-sensitive proteins that stimulate release of dopamine — a neurotransmitting chemical in the brain helping control pleasure and reward centers — in the mice’s brains while running through a maze. The dopamine release encouraged the mice to return to the same location in the maze for another reward. In the same exercise, the researchers released a chemical in the brain that interferes with dopamine receptors, thus blocking the effects of the dopamine and altering the mice’s reward-seeking behavior.

Washington University graduate student and co-first author Jordan McCall says in a university statement that the team designed the system “to exploit infrared technology, similar to that used in a TV remote. If we want to influence an animal’s behavior with light or with a particular drug, we can simply point the remote at the animal and press a button.”

Because of the device’s small size, it can be implanted with minimally invasive surgery, which expands its potential applications outside the brain, to other parts of the nervous system and other organs in the body. The researchers also believe the device can be designed to be refilled, as well as activated remotely, so it can be implanted only once and used as long as needed.

In the following interview, Bruchas and McCall tell more about the device (Courtesy, Washington University in St. Louis).

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Genetic Engineered Variety Controls Destructive Moth

Diamondback moth

Diamondback moth (Olaf Leillinger, Wikimedia Commons)

16 July 2015. A genetically engineered diamondback moth that prevents females of the species from maturing is found in greenhouse tests to quickly control populations of this destructive pest. Results of the tests, led by biotechnology company Oxitec Ltd., appear today in the journal BMC Biology.

The diamondback mothPlutella xylostella — is a destructive agriculture pest, particularly the caterpillars that eat brassica or crucifer vegetable crops including popular items such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale. The moth causes crop damage estimated by co-author Anthony Shelton of Cornell University at $4 to $5 billion a year worldwide.

Controlling the diamondback up to now relied on pesticides, but in recent years, the moth has shown to develop a resistance to synthetic, biological, and plant-expressed pesticides, as well as some types of crops genetically engineered to survive the moth. Another control technique uses radiation to produce sterile male insects that disrupt mating and thus reduce pest populations, but the sterile insect technique, as it is called, reportedly has uneven success, particularly over large regions. Radiation affects many genes in the moth, making them weaker and less able to compete against healthy males in the population.

Oxitec is a spin-off enterprise from Oxford University in the U.K. that develops genetically engineered insect varieties for controlling agricultural pests, including the diamondback moth, as well as disease-spreading mosquitoes. In the new study, researchers from Oxitec, with colleagues from the U.S. (including Shelton) and China, tested a genetically engineered variety of the male diamondback moth, designed to produce female offspring that die before they reach maturity, thus preventing eggs to be laid and causing the population to decline.

The team led by Oxitec research scientist Neil Morrison tested the company’s engineered diamondback moth in greenhouses growing broccoli at Cornell in New York State and the U.K. Genetically engineered, but otherwise healthy, moths were compared against non-engineered moths. The Oxitec moths were also identified with a fluorescent protein marker.

The results show moth populations in greenhouses with the genetically engineered males quickly diminished in size, and were eliminated in about 8 weeks, while similar greenhouses with non-engineered moths had little change in population. Similar tests with broccoli genetically engineered to resist diamondback moths, a type often grown commercially, show moth populations also diminished. Oxitec moths in the greenhouses with the genetically engineered broccoli also did not develop a resistance to those varieties.

The company plans further small-scale tests with cabbage in field cages during the summer of 2015, which are already approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The following video tells more about the Oxitec engineered diamondback moth.

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Magnetic Nanoparticles Found to Boost Immunotherapy

Human T-cell lymphocyte

Scanning electron micrograph of a human T-cell lymphocyte (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH)

15 July 2015. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University designed a process for making immunotherapy more practical as a cancer treatment by collecting cancer-fighting T-cells faster and easier with magnetic synthetic antigen nanoparticles. The team from the lab of Jonathan Schneck, professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University medical center in Baltimore, published results of lab tests of that process in yesterday’s issue of the journal ACS Nano (paid subscription required).

Schneck and co-author Mathias Oelke are co-founders of Neximmune, a spin-off enterprise from Johns Hopkins, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Neximmune has an exclusive license from the university to develop and commercialize the synthetic antigen nanoparticle technology.

The research team is seeking a technique to make immunotherapy more feasible as a treatment strategy for cancer and other diseases where the immune system can be harnessed to fight invading pathogens. One of the problems with immunotherapy, however, is the high cost and complexity of collecting enough of an individual’s T-cells, white blood cells that respond to pathogen invaders, to be effective.

Schneck and colleagues already developed synthetic white blood cells called artificial antigen-presenting cells that contain the antigens for stimulating an immune response. These nanoscale artificial antigen-presenting cells bind to T-cells, in effect recruiting them for the battle against those specific invaders. But to stimulate that immune response, the synthetic antigen carriers first need to find unused T-cells in sufficient quantities for the battle.

The team also found earlier they could infuse magnetic capabilities into the artificial antigen-presenting cells. Exposing the synthetic antigen cells with unused T-cells to a magnetic field then trained the T-cells to bring antigen receptors on the T-cells’ surface in closer alignment with the synthetic antigen cells, making the binding process easier. The researchers now needed a way of collecting enough unused T-cells, which can be difficult to identify in the blood, to bind with the synthetic antigen cells.

The Johns Hopkins researchers expanded on these magnetic capabilities to craft a solution. The team developed a device with a magnetic column through which flowed blood plasma with the synthetic antigen cells and white blood cells. The magnetized synthetic antigen cells stuck to the walls of the magnetic column, and were able to attract large numbers of unused T-cells with receptors on their surface that aligned easily with the synthetic antigen cells. Used T-cells, unqualified for the task, washed through.

The team tested this process with plasma samples first from mice, and then humans using cancer antigens. With this process, reported in the new journal article, the researchers were able to attract and capture enough unused T-cells for culturing in the lab, and multiplying their numbers from 5,000 to 10,000 times within one week. The team believes they advanced the concept that a personalized therapy strategy can be devised for attracting, capturing, and expanding the number of cancer-fighting T-cells outside the body, then returning them to the patient.

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Univ. Research Execs See Science Economic Benefits

Capitol building

(skeeze, Pixabay)

15 July 2015. Senior research executives at 10 U.S. universities described the benefits of scientific research to their campuses, communities, and nation at a roundtable discussion today in Washington, D.C. The forum, organized by the Science Coalition and Association of American Universities, also described perils of uneven federal research funding as well as related dangers of increasing politicization of federal research funding agencies.

The research executives by and large found collaborations between academic researchers and businesses beneficial, but noted some caveats. Fred King, vice-president for research at West Virginia University described a spin-off company from his campus that developed a device that identified biomarkers of stroke, to help diagnose the type and timing of strokes for more timely and accurate treatments. Another spin-off company King described is developing a portable PET scanner that makes it possible to scan brain activity while people carry on their day-to-day lives, and gain more accurate data for diagnostics.

David Conover, vice-president for research at Stony Brook University, highlighted a collaboration model that brings start-up companies from outside the university system. Conover said the program, part of the statewide Start Up New York campaign, attracted 18 companies to the campus, generating 180 jobs and $12.7 million in revenues. In addition, Stony Brook is part of a consortium of 5 campuses on Long Island creating a venture capital fund to support university spin-off enterprises.

Mark Redfern, University of Pittsburgh’s vice-provost for research, outlined that institution’s annual Big Ideas competition that attracts some 100 student teams from across the campus, not just engineering students. Teams compete for cash prizes that provide seed capital for their budding enterprises, as well as training from economic development organizations in the region.

In response to a question from Science and Enterprise, David Wynes, vice-president for research administration at Emory University in Atlanta noted that the recent financing boom in biotechnology  led to increased research funding as well as licensing income for the university, an economic situation that turned around since the economic downturn in 2008.

Jay Walsh, vice-president for research at Northwestern University, said at his campus research support is now coming from a variety of sources, including businesses, even in the local Chicago community. Walsh also noted that more research on drug discovery was finding its way into start-up companies, which was driving a closer relationship between scientists and companies commercializing their findings.

Walsh added that close relationship, however, sometimes presents a challenge at managing the relationship between the campus and company. Other panel members also pointed out the need to watch for conflicts of interest, while Maria Zuber, vice-president of research at MIT said they advise students “to first get your degree, then start a company.”

Keep politics out of science

While the research executives largely bullish on business and economic collaborations, they expressed considerably less confidence in the increasing politicization of science in Washington. Gloria Waters, vice-president and associate provost for research at Boston University, remarked that politicians need to understand how science works. “”Science is a search for the truth,” said Waters, “and sometimes the results will not be what one side or party wants to see, but the results are the results.” Waters added that scientists consider finding the truth their contribution to the national interest.

University of West Virginia’s King underscored the importance of speaking directly to citizens in making the case for the benefits of science. “We spend a lot of time trying to make our case to members of Congress, but what they do is listen to their constituents,” noted King. “We see the surveys where people do not seem to understand the value of research for their taxpayer dollars. And we have to be much more effective in how we make that case to them.”

The panel likewise highlighted the difficulties caused by favoring some types of research over others, particularly when withholding funds for political reasons. One area threatened by political forces is social science research. MIT’s Zuber told how studies of water use in western states suffering from drought, for example, are very much studies of human behavior.

Pittsburgh’s Redfern pointed out that cyber-security, a hot topic in Washington, also has a large human behavior element. Northwestern’s Walsh added that studies of education draw a great deal from social science, and show for example that voucher programs in Florida are benefiting students in both public and private schools.

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Bristol-Myers Squibb, S.C. Med School Partner on Fibrosis

Karen Lackey

Karen Lackey (Medical University of South Carolina)

15 July 2015. Medical University of South Carolina and pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb are collaborating on drug discovery research to better understand the science behind fibrosis diseases, leading to new treatments. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the partnership were not disclosed.

Fibrosis is the growth of excess tissue that occurs in response to injury or damage, and is often referred to as scarring. The excess tissue growth, however, can happen internally as well with damaging effects on organs in disorders such as scleroderma, kidney fibrosis, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Scleroderma results in hardening of skin and connective tissue, but can also affect blood vessels and the digestive tract. Diabetic kidney disease is tissue damage from fibrosis in kidneys of people with diabetes, considered a major health problem. Pulmonary fibrosis is scarring of lung tissue that prevents the lungs from operating properly, restricting oxygen flow to the blood, brain, and other organs. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis refers to conditions where the precise cause of the scarring is unknown.

The partnership is expected to investigate the mechanistic underpinnings of fibrosis, examine different disease characteristics expressed by individuals with fibrotic disorders, and improve the understanding of biomarkers and predictors of disease progression. Karen Lackey, director of the university’s drug discovery center, says in a joint statement, “We have unparalleled expertise in fibrosis research at MUSC,” adding that the collaboration has “the potential to make a significant impact in fibrotic diseases and in patients’ lives with these debilitating diseases.”

In 2014, Medical University of South Carolina or MUSC in Charleston established its Center for Therapeutic Discovery and Development that aims to develop a new model for improving the success rate for discovering new therapies. That model, says the university, relies on greater collaboration between clinicians and researchers, as well as academic and industrial scientists, to break down traditional silos. One of tools for breaking through the silos is a “virtual huddle,” an online space where colleagues can log and discuss ideas, and where ideas getting the most discussion rise to the top and become the basis for pitches to industry.

Fibrotic disorders is one the key research areas for Bristol-Myers Squibb. The company has biologic therapies in current or recently completed clinical trials for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and diabetic kidney disease. Bristol-Myers Squibb also gained access through acquisition of other therapy candidates for pulmonary fibrosis in early-stage trials.

In addition, the company has a collaboration and licensing agreement with California Institute for Biomedical Research for small molecule anti-fibrotic therapies. That deal, signed in January 2015, makes it possible for Bristol-Myers Squibb to develop and commercialize drug candidates currently in preclinical testing.

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