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EMD Serono, Pfizer, Broad Institute Partner on Lupus Markers

Nir Hacohen

Nir Hacohen (

1 April 2014. EMD Serono, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Merck in Rockland, Massachusetts, is joining with the drug maker Pfizer and Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT to identify genomic biomarkers of two types of lupus. The research is funded by EMD Serono and Pfizer, but financial aspects of the agreement were not disclosed.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system is tricked into attacking healthy tissue, in this case leading to inflammation in the joints, skin, and other organs. In about 60 percent of systemic lupus erythematosus cases, the kidneys become inflamed, which is called lupus nephritis. There are no cures for these conditions, and most treatments involve relief of their symptoms.

The research will be conducted in the lab of Broad Institute immunologist Nir Hacohen, who is also accredited to Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Hacohen and colleagues will collect clinical samples from lupus patients and derive immune cells for analysis. From those cells, the researchers will sequence RNA from many types of cells and states.

“We will collect millions of unbiased measurements from lupus patients over many time points along with key clinical variables,” says Hacohen in an EMD Serono statement. “We will use this data set to infer active biological pathways in these patients and develop novel dynamic models of lupus pathogenesis.”

Hacohen is a founder of the RNAi Consortium, based at the Broad Institute, that’s developing RNA interference technologies to probe the functions of mammalian genes. The consortium is building a library of gene silencers applied to infectious and autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.

Under the agreement, EMD Serono and Pfizer will get access to all data and analysis and have company research scientists share their expertise in computational genomic profiling with counterparts at Broad Institute. EMD Serono is the biopharmaceutical subsidiary of Merck.

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