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From cancer to heart disease
WHIPPANY, N.J.—In 2013, Bayer Healthcare and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard struck a deal to work together on illuminating the genetic foundations of cancer. The partnership has gone well enough during its first two years that the research institute and pharma giant have announced they are expanding their collaboration beyond cancer to target cardiovascular disease.
The new agreement provides a framework for Bayer and Broad to collaborate on genetic discovery, target validation and drug discovery activities with the aim of developing new and more effective therapies.
“It is exciting to be expanding on our ongoing, successful partnership with Bayer in oncology,” said Prof. Eric Lander, president and director of the Broad Institute. “We are looking forward to a fruitful collaboration combining Bayer’s expertise in the cardiovascular therapeutic area with Broad’s deep knowledge of genomics and biology.”
The agreement is not the first far-reaching collaboration with a major pharmaceutical company that the Broad Institute has pursued. Recently, Broad has also forged partnerships with both AstraZeneca and Roche. The institute has a two-year deal with AstraZeneca focused on identifying new drugs to target bacterial and viral infections. Its ongoing partnership with Roche is focused on finding novel uses for compounds the firm developed that have floundered in previous clinical trials.
Sekar Kathiresan, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Preventive Cardiology program at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells DDNews that this latest agreement has great potential to benefit both parties involved. “The two institutions complement each other quite well, particularly in this area,” says Kathiresan, who is also a member of the Broad Institute, which was launched by MIT, Harvard and their affiliated hospitals in 2004. “The Broad Institute has a record of using genetics to discover the root causes of disease in humans, and Bayer has tremendous experience in moving from biological insights to effective medicine, particularly in the area of cardiovascular disease.”
Neither side is disclosing the full financial terms of the agreement, but Bayer tells DDNews that it will have an option for an exclusive license for potential drug candidates at the preclinical development stage. After such an option exercise, Bayer would be solely responsible for any further preclinical and clinical development of potential candidates originating from this collaboration. Broad will share commercial benefits of any drugs that are developed.
It is well known that lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet and exercise are the main contributors to heart disease. But Bayer and Broad intend to focus their collaborative research on the genetic factors that also play a key role, determining predisposition and affecting the age of onset and severity of disease.
Kirsten Leineweber, a specialist in cardiology who works in global drug discovery at Bayer, tells DDNews that the partnership is a part of a broader effort at Bayer to focus on the genomic causes of disease. “Broad has great expertise not only in generating genomics data but also in analyzing data with a focus on patient’s needs, and this is exactly what most interests us,” she says. “Using genetic information for drug discovery and development is really a paradigm shift. By elucidating the mechanisms involved in disease development and progression in cardiovascular disease, we are aiming to identify and target and pathways involved and find out if it’s possible to modulate them.”
Governance for the Broad-Bayer alliance will be comprised of a joint steering committee and joint research committee that will oversee research progress and direction. Bayer Alliance Manager Florian Peuhlers, who is embedded within Broad as part of the partnership, tells DDNews that the extent of the collaboration is very significant. “This is a truly novel and exciting partnership for Bayer,” says Puehlers. “We have a collaborative mindset at all decision levels of the partnership, including a joint governance structure and joint project initiation.”
The goal of the previous collaboration forged in 2013 and currently underway is for Broad and Bayer to jointly discover and develop therapeutic agents that selectively target cancer genome alterations. This is being accomplished by drawing on Broad’s catalogs of mutational changes across different types of tumors. Researchers hope to discover drug candidates with the potential to become personalized cancer treatments that target a specific genetic abnormality.