Bristol-Myers Squibb and Harvard Stem Cell Institute Team Up

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Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Harvard Fibrosis Network, part of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, have launched a collaboration to discover and develop new therapies for fibrotic diseases.

Fibrotic diseases can affect many different organs, including liver and heart. One of the big areas of interest these days is non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is similar to cirrhosis of the liver, but occurs in individuals who don’t drink alcohol. It is related to trends in obesity. Aside from diet and exercise, there is no specific approved therapy for NASH.

Under the collaboration, researchers from the Harvard Fibrosis Network who specialize in liver and heart fibrosis will work with Bristol-Myers researchers on four projects over three years. The projects will focus on applied fibrosis biology, identification of noninvasive biomarkers, and novel targets for potential anti-fibrosis therapies in the two areas of focus, liver and heart.

“The Harvard Fibrosis Network was founded on the principle that fibrotic processes across different organs could share commonalities,” said Joseph Bonventre, lead researcher of the Harvard Fibrosis network and the Samuel A. Levine Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in a statement. “To accelerate our understanding in this area, we draw on a large accomplished group of investigators at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute who focus on many different organs and biological processes. Our collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb will advance our efforts to discover and develop fibrosis therapies, because it allows us to combine the best of academic, clinical, and pharmaceutical research practice.”

This collaboration follows a February 26 announcement that Yale Cancer Center had joined the International Immuno-Oncology Network (II-ON), a global peer-to-peer collaboration between Bristol-Myers Squibb and academia focused on immuno-oncology. It was formed in 2012 by Bristol-Myers Squibb, one of the first academic-industry networks. It has since expanded from 10 to 16 sites across North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

At the time, Nils Lonberg, head of Oncology Biology Discovery at Bristol-Myers Squib, stated, “Translational medicine and the understanding of cancer biology are foundational to our oncology R&D program, which is why we’re invested in furthering our understanding of early I-O science through the II-ON. By adding Yale Cancer Center to the network, we are strengthening our collective ability to address essential scientific questions and advance clinical discovery, which we hope will eventually translate to meaningful outcomes for patients.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb has invested in a number of scientific collaborations with global academic partners. Others include the Global Expert Centers Initiative (GECI), the Immuno-Oncology Integrated Community Oncology Network (IO-ICON) and the Oncology Academic Research (OAR) Group.

Traditionally, academic researchers focus on basic research, the so-called “pure science,” as compared to “applied science.” There has been an attitude at times that they are on opposite sides, when in fact, they need each other. In an article published by the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer at the University of Montreal by Mathilde Soulez, a postdoctoral fellow in the Sylvain Meloche Laboratory, she noted, “The dynamics of the pharmaceutical industry have changed tremendously over the last 30 years. Spending has gone up while the return on investment in research and development (R&D) has gone down. Despite the progress made in the understanding of complex biological systems and the sophistication of methods and technologies, productivity has remained constant over the last 60 years with an approximate rate of one new drug a year per company (among the three oldest and biggest pharmaceutical companies: Merck, Eli Lilly, and Roche). The pharmaceutical industry’s business model is a constant challenge. Most of the products commercialized by companies today will no longer generate market profits after a dozen years or so, once the patents expire.”

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