Under the new agreement, Eisai's research team at its Andover innovative Medicines (AiM) Institute will work with Patrick Gaffney, M.D., a member of OMRF's Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program, to study the role of certain genes and how they affect the human immune response in lupus patients.
For those patients affected by lupus, the immune system becomes unbalanced and attacks the body's own tissues. The disease can result in damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, heart and lungs. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, the disease affects as many as 1.5 million Americans and 5 million people worldwide.
Certain gene products (proteins) are molecules that help the immune system recognize pathogens like viruses and bacteria that enter the body. Gaffney and his laboratory staff will use advanced DNA sequencing technology to examine lupus patient samples for mutations in these genes that might affect autoimmune disease.
"Genetically-guided clinical trials are of significant precedence now, and if we can understand the genetic molecules at work in these lupus pathways, these studies may tell us whether or not a drug will work," said Gaffney. "This is precision medicine: tailoring the best and most effective treatments for patients and reducing the amount of trial and error in prescribing medications."
Using genetic sequencing data developed in Gaffney's lab at OMRF, the company will examine those results to see if certain genes inhibit or suppress the molecules' function in lupus and identify patients likely to respond to a particular course of treatment for lupus.
"Lupus is a complex disease, and people respond to drugs in different ways," said OMRF Vice President of Technology Ventures Manu Nair. "By combining Dr. Gaffney's resources and expertise with Eisai's, we hope that we can speed the process of creating new and better treatment management tools for patients suffering from autoimmune disease."
Gaffney, who holds the J.G. Puterbaugh Chair in Medical Research, specializes in studying the genetics of autoimmune diseases. His lab at OMRF is the site of several genome-wide association studies that have expanded the understanding of genes associated with lupus and other autoimmune diseases.
Eisai's AiM Institute, located in Andover, Mass., is a dedicated R&D innovation unit consisting of 90 scientists focused on delivering novel targeted medicines, discovered and robustly validated by human genetics and related sources to patients.
"We believe that in-depth statistical and biological characterization of naturally occurring genetic variants in certain genes will provide valuable insight in our efforts to pharmacologically target the pathways to treat lupus," said Janna Hutz, Ph.D., head of Human Biology & Data Science at the Eisai AiM Institute. "By using human genetics as a tool to navigate the rich lupus patient data gathered by OMRF, we hope to sharply focus the design of future Eisai clinical trials in this area."
The collaboration's goal is to create new ways for helping physicians deliver the most targeted and effective treatments to individual patients.
"Every drug has side effects, and information that we're seeking, along with a patient's genetic profile, could help physicians know when to increase or taper medications they give their patients," said Gaffney.