OMRF and Biogen have formed a research collaboration.
Under the new agreement, Biogen researchers will work with Kathy Sivils, Ph.D., a member of OMRF’s Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program, in an effort to develop biomarkers that could predict if patients suffering from the autoimmune disease Sjögren’s syndrome might benefit from new approaches of treatment that are being developed by Biogen.
“This collaboration with Biogen represents an important step in OMRF’s efforts to build early stage relationships with industry,” said OMRF Vice President of Technology Ventures Manu Nair. “By combining the resources and expertise of Biogen and OMRF, we hope that we can speed the process of creating new and better treatment management tools for patients suffering from autoimmune disease.”
The project is a part of a personalized medicine initiative where advance testing is utilized to identify the patients most likely to respond to specific treatments. Using resources and data developed in Sivils’ lab at OMRF, the company hopes identify patients likely to respond to a particular course of treatment for Sjögren’s.
“Every drug doesn’t work the same way in every patient, so the goal of this partnership with OMRF is to develop a sort of ‘pre-screening’ test to determine which patients would respond favorably to their Sjögren’s medication,” explained Michael Mingueneau, Ph.D., of Biogen’s immunology research group.
In Sjögren’s syndrome, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its moisture-producing glands, resulting in dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and joint pain. According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, the illness affects an estimated 4 million Americans.
The disease’s symptoms often mimic those of other autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis, making it difficult to diagnose. Drops and preparations for dry eyes and mouth can help temporarily, but immunosuppressive medications may be necessary to manage internal organ issues or severe flares.
In the lab, Sivils and her colleague Darise Farris, Ph.D., are looking for biomarkers—substances that indicate the presence of disease—in Sjögren’s patients that might identify how well each person will respond to a specific drug. Sivils and Biogen researchers are analyzing patient samples to try to pinpoint which biomarkers make them good candidates for specific medications before they actually begin treatment.
Sivils was the first researcher to launch a large-scale, genome-wide association study of patients with Sjögren’s syndrome. In 2013, she led an international coalition of researchers that identified six new genes related to the illness.
At OMRF, Sivils has built a unique collection of biological samples gathered from patients in the foundation’s Sjögren’s research clinic. The samples give Sivils and her collaborators access to biological materials that are essential to developing new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.
“The Sivils lab probably has the best and most complete cohort of Sjögren’s samples and data of any lab in the world,” said OMRF’s Nair. “Biopharma companies have come to realize that not every drug will work for every patient, so the data that we have at OMRF is incredibly valuable to the field of translational medicine.”
Sivils hopes the collaboration with Biogen will create a companion diagnostic that will help physicians deliver the most effective treatment to individual patients.
“In today’s treatment landscape, physicians can barely manage the symptoms of Sjögren’s,” said Sivils. “As long as we have patients who need better treatment, projects like this will be crucial. They’ll help us move toward good solutions for every patient.”