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A joint research project
June 2012
by David Hutton  |  Email the author

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BAGSVAERD, Denmark—Novo Nordisk is teaming up with England's Oxford University to develop novel treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.  
 
Novo Nordisk will fund 10 Oxford researchers at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology to work within the partnership. A joint steering committee with members from both parties, including Falk Prof. Sir Marc Feldmann, head of the Kennedy Institute, will oversee the partnership and assess research proposals from scientists at both organizations. The steering committee is composed of three senior members from the Kennedy Research Institute and three senior members of the Novo Nordisk Biopharmaceutical Research Unit, and will meet regularly to review progress, evaluate data and prioritize activities within the collaboration.  
 
Per Falk, senior vice president of the Biopharmaceutical Research Unit at Novo Nordisk, says the company is excited by the prospects of developing its autoimmune inflammatory disease pipeline in close collaboration with Oxford University's Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology. He says the focus of the collaboration is primarily on existing projects where Novo Nordisk is building a strong scientific package to support current and future clinical trials.  
 
"We are working with novel biological concepts for treatment of inflammatory conditions, and this collaboration will further the understanding of how these pathways work and can bring value to patients," he says. "Short-term, this will focus on generating biological data that supports our ongoing clinical trials and assets close to the testing in man. We will explore novel targets and mechanisms that previously have not been explored in a therapeutic setting. The overall ambition is to combine our company's clinical development strengths with those of the Kennedy Institute to increase the odds that we can successfully develop novel treatment regimens and get them more quickly to the patients who could potentially benefit from them."  
 
Falk says Oxford proved to be the right collaborator because the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology is among foremost institutions in autoimmune inflammatory diseases worldwide.  
 
"They have over many decades spearheaded many areas in immunology spanning from novel biology to new treatment modalities," he says. "Novo Nordisk has had a successful collaboration with Prof. Feldmann's group for many years. We are now strengthening this relationship with the Kennedy Institute by establishing a broader platform for exploring new therapeutic approaches in inflammation."
 
The Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology is known for having made breakthroughs in the understanding of the biological pathways that lead to rheumatoid arthritis, which has had a major impact on the treatment of autoimmune inflammatory disease.
 
Feldmann, together with his colleague Sir Ravinder Maini, discovered the efficacy of antitumor necrosis factor, or anti-TNF treatment, a class of drugs used as the current standard of care for moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune inflammatory diseases.  
 
According to Feldmann, the institute focuses on translational research techniques, including the novel use of diseased human tissue to validate new drug targets as tractable avenues for the treatment of autoimmune inflammatory diseases, and also the identification of specific biomarkers of disease that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of new interventions in a range of patient populations.  
 
"As a translational research center, we are keen to do clinical research on truly innovative ideas that have the potential to improve how patients with autoimmune inflammatory disease are treated today," says Feldmann. "Despite advances, there is still a considerable unmet need in this area with many of the patients responding only partially to existing treatments. The need for new therapeutic options is imperative."
 
Feldmann adds that researchers at the institute will work closely with Novo Nordisk "to apply the most advanced translational research approaches available for discovering new mechanisms and validating drug targets and candidates in autoimmune inflammatory disease in a variety of human disease tissue types and at different stages of disease to ensure comprehensive characterization of each compound's clinical potential."  
 
Together, the partners hope to differentiate from established therapies and provide safe and efficacious treatment to patients that are not responding adequately to current therapies. In order to achieve this, Falk says researchers need to have in-depth knowledge of the way these drug candidates work at the molecular level and to ensure that they can confirm that these mechanisms are also at play in human disease.
 
"This will allow us to design trials that describe how and in what patients a specific therapy provide benefit," he points out. "This could, for instance, mean the ability to define patient populations likely to respond to the treatment. Long-term, it is very likely that these efforts will lead to better therapies as well as new scientific insights that may generate additional therapeutic opportunities. It is a unique opportunity to generate knowledge to help progress development of novel therapies and to forward our understanding of how we can become better in defining patient categories suited for a specific therapy."
 
Code: E061208

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