NIH, drug companies team up to target diseases
February 4th, 2014
02:41 PM ET

NIH, drug companies team up to target diseases

The National Institutes of Health is partnering with researchers from 10 rival drug companies and several nonprofit organizations to develop new and earlier treatments for diseases including diabetes, Alzheimer's and lupus.

The partnership, announced  Tuesday by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, "could change the way scientific research is conducted."

"This is an unprecedented partnership, bringing the best and brightest scientists from the public and the private sectors together to discover the next generation of drug targets that are going to transform our ability to treat Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and that's just getting started,” Collins said.

The consortium will be known as the Accelerating Medicines Partnership.  It will focus at first on three disease groups: Alzheimer's, diabetes and autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Tuesday's announcement brought together the heads of a number of major pharmaceutical companies and directors of organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and the Lupus Foundation, all of whom say they believe that the partnership will be the next step toward discovering the causes of these diseases and treating them.

The consortium is a huge step for better understanding the scientific makeup of these illnesses, said Dr. William Chin, executive vice president of science and regulatory affairs at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

“We don't understand the causes of many of these diseases. In fact, we also appreciate that many of them may have many causes. By combining these academic and industry leaders, we can pool our knowledge to make better drugs that can target these conditions," he said.

Shanelle Gabriel, a performance artist who was diagnosed with lupus 10 years ago, said the partnership is her next hope to finding a better way to live with the disease through a drug designed to treat her condition.

"Many of the medications I've been on were not for lupus," Gabriel said. "They were for other diseases. I was on medications that are pre-chemotherapy treatments. I've been on medications for people accepting liver donations, kidney donations or things of that nature. I've been on steroids, which … is a very toxic drug, but it's the only drug that seems to work. There's only been one drug that has targeted lupus since its existence."

The project will review research already under development and look at ways to pinpoint genes, proteins, chemical pathways and molecular makeup of cells to provide insight into what causes the diseases.  The hope is that this collaboration may speed up the development and approval of new drugs.

The partnership has been in the making for over a year. Dr. Mikael Dolsten, president of worldwide research and development for Pfizer, believes that by working together, the members will have better direction on how to attack the conditions.

"We are still navigating in a landscape where a lot of this richness in information is not, in a consistent manner, brought together," Dolsten said. "It's fragmented, and it's not easily accessible to fast-moving, drug discovery development projects. It's almost like you're traveling in a landscape of biology, but there are no clear signposts where to go.

"Your maps lack details, and what we would like to have is a precise navigation system - a GPS for human disease. And this GPS is urgently needed, because we have pressing need for patients suffering from many of these diseases, and we are wasting resources and time."

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