Cambridge, Massachusetts-based global biotechnology company, Biogen Idec, known for its dedication to finding solutions to neurodegenerative diseases, hematologic conditions and autoimmune disorders, has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Columbia University Medical Center worth $30 million. The two parties will be conducting collaborative research on the genetic factors underlying these diseases, and in the process, hope to discover new treatment approaches. One of the autoimmune diseases biomedical research has yet to fully understand is pulmonary fibrosis; in particular, the idiopathic form of the disease (IPF). The fibrotic changes in the lungs cause a progressive and debilitating decline in adequate oxygenation, frequently leading to respiratory failure and death.
Under Biogen and Columbia’s agreement, the latter will be hosting a sequencing and analysis facility, along with a collaborative postdoctoral research program focused on genetics. “Our understanding of human genetics is rapidly expanding, and there is growing recognition that the elucidation of the genetic causes of disease will have a transformative effect on both patient care and drug development in many different diseases,” said David Goldstein, PhD, the founding director of Columbia University’s Institute for Genomic Medicine. “This collaboration marries the exceptional drug development expertise of Biogen with cutting-edge genomics expertise at Columbia University Medical Center. It will not only focus on target identification and validation at the early stages of drug development, but also facilitate genetically informed evaluation of treatments.”
The partnership seeks to better understand patients’ genomes, how they dictate individual treatment response, and how genetics play a factor in disease progression. Their main goal is to discover multiple qualified targets for new and better treatment options.
“This collaboration with Biogen, with its focus on the genetic causes of diseases, fits in perfectly with Columbia’s commitment to precision medicine,” said Lee Goldman, MD, MPH, a Harold and Margaret Hatch Professor at Columbia, and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine. “The development of new treatments based on this genetic understanding will have profound effects on clinical practice.”
Columbia will be hosting a new genetics research facility in light of this new partnership with Biogen, which will have the capacity to assemble and complete whole-genome sequencing tasks in high speed. This feature will allow researchers to conduct population-scale gene sequencing on a wide range of diseases in a very short timeframe. Diseases of particular interest are those with significantly unmet clinical needs, such as cystic fibrosis, ALS, and IPF.
“The strong clinical and basic science programs in neurodegenerative diseases at Columbia will significantly benefit from the Columbia/Biogen alliance,” said Tom Maniatis, PhD, the Isidore S. Edelman Professor of Biochemistry and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center and director of Columbia’s university-wide precision medicine initiative. “We expect that the alliance will dramatically advance our understanding of the genetics of these devastating diseases and ultimately lead to mechanism-based treatments, a key aspect of Columbia’s precision-medicine initiative.”