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Sanford-Burnham, Lilly Partnering on Immune Therapies

Human T-cell lymphocyte

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

14 May 2015. Sanford-Burnham Research Institute and Eli Lilly and Company are collaborating on discovering new therapies for immune system disorders using biotechnology tools. Financial and intellectual property aspects of their agreement were not disclosed.

The partnership aims to combine Sanford-Burnham’s experience in cell communication pathways with Eli Lilly’s work in biotechnology applied to immunological diseases. The organizations expect the collaboration to yield targets for therapies addressing conditions such as lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and other autoimmune diseases, where the immune system is tricked into attacking healthy tissue and cells.

Lupus — more formally known as systemic lupus erythematosus — is an autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation in the joints, skin, and other organs including heart, lungs, and kidneys. The disorder is more common in women than men, mainly affecting individuals between the ages of 10 and 50. Inflammatory bowel disease results in inflammation of the digestive tract, and includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Sjogren’s syndrome affects the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of the eyes and mouth, causing reduced production of tears and saliva.

The partnership will engage Sanford-Burnham’s Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center in La Jolla, California, led by molecular biologist Carl Ware. The lab studies intercellular communication pathways controlling immune responses, particularly cell-signaling proteins regulating lymphocytes, white blood cells involved in immune responses, and inflammation. Work by Ware and colleagues led to discovery of therapy targets for immunological and inflammatory diseases and cancer.

Thomas Bumol, Eli Lilly’s senior vice president for biotechnology and immunology research, will co-chair the partnership with Ware. The company says it has therapies in the pipeline for immunological disorders including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease. In March 2015, Eli Lilly acquired from Hanmi Pharmaceutical in Korea, an experimental drug that blocks the actions of an enzyme associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

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