Merck Serono, Pfizer and Broad team up in lupus research

Merck Serono and Pfizer are to work with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts to undertake genomic profiling of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Lupus Nephritis (LN) patients.

The research project will be jointly funded by Merck Serono and Pfizer and will tap into the cutting edge research of the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research centre affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and its associated hospitals.

SLE is a systemic autoimmune disease, and can cause LN, an inflammation of the kidney. In SLE patients, in addition to the kidney, other tissues and organs can be affected, including the skin, the nervous system, or joints.

The Broad Institute will investigate clinical samples obtained from SLE and LN patients, applying biochemical and next-generation sequencing technologies. They will also analyse immune cell subpopulations. The goal is to identify biomarkers to better define target patient populations for future therapies. Computational modelling approaches will also help to identify key molecular drivers of SLE and LN kidney flares, and thereby to discover potential novel drug targets for potential new therapies.

Merck Serono and Pfizer will receive real-time access to all data and analysis, and will also be able to send a research scientist to the Broad Institute to foster exchange of technology expertise in the area of computational and experimental genomic profiling.

“We are thrilled to align with Merck Serono and Pfizer on an innovative project to stratify SLE patients and identify candidate immune pathways underlying lupus nephritis,” said Prof. Nir Hacohen, Associate Professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Senior Associate Member at the Broad Institute. “Technical advances now make it possible for us to sequence RNA in very small numbers of cells, enabling us to be more comprehensive in our analysis of cell types and states in Lupus patients. We will collect millions of unbiased measurements from lupus patients over many time points along with key clinical variables. We will use this dataset to infer active biological pathways in these patients and develop novel dynamic models of Lupus pathogenesis.”

“The research group of Prof. Nir Hacohen from the Broad Institute is a pioneer in the field of systems immunology and has developed a unique strategy to dissect Lupus and Lupus Nephritis,” said Harsukh Parmar, Head of the Translational Innovation Platform Immunology & Neurodegenerative Diseases at Merck Serono. “Combined with the Broad Institute’s technical know-how, we see this collaboration aiming for a significant contribution to potential future innovative treatments of Lupus and Lupus Nephritis. This is in line with our concept to integrate genomic profiling and system biology approaches throughout our preclinical and clinical programmes.”

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