Crowdsourcing for the cause

Boehringer Ingelheim, BioMed X establish research team to seek new treatment approaches for psychiatric diseases

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INGELHEIM, Germany—In hopes of kicking off new research to identify novel approaches to treat patients with psychiatric diseases, Boehringer Ingelheim and BioMed X have come together to create a research team of scientists selected for submitting the most promising solution approaches in a crowdsourcing competition. In particular, the focus will be the identification of maladaptive brain circuits that could offer new targets for treatment.
Mental illness, including substance abuse disorders, is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, with an estimated 450 million individuals afflicted with mental health problems. In fact, the associated global economic burden is larger than for cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and is expected to continue growing.
“We are excited about applying the innovative approach of crowdsourcing to harness the creativity of the scientific community and combine it with our internal research and development capabilities, to discover the next generation of medicines for patients with psychiatric diseases who currently have insufficient treatment options,” Clive R. Wood, corporate senior vice president and head of Discovery Research of Boehringer Ingelheim, stated in a press release. “Our scientists will work closely with the new team we are establishing with our partner BioMed X, thereby further supporting our ambition to be an innovation leader in psychiatric diseases.”
While specific financial details were not released, Boehringer Ingelheim will sponsor this new research team for two years, with the option to extend the funding period up to a total of four years. The team will work to generate novel therapeutic approaches to treating psychiatric diseases by developing a highly integrated brain microcircuit model that includes authentic neuronal and non-neuronal cells and can support functional readouts with enough robustness and throughput for drug discovery. The research team will be established in the BioMed X Innovation Center on the University of Heidelberg campus, led by Michał Ślęzak. This initiative comes on the heels of a previous successful crowdsourcing venture to determine novel epigenetic drivers to identify new approaches for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“With this new neuroscience research group our center is growing to over 60 top researchers from around the world. We are excited about our strong partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim, which is driven by scientific excellence and mutual trust,” Christian Tidona, founder and managing director of BioMed X, commented in a statement regarding the venture.
Collaborative efforts such as these are an ongoing endeavor for both companies. In March, BioMed X, along with Merck KGaA, announced an extension of their cancer research collaboration, the fourth joint research group at BioMed X's Innovation Center. The focus is novel therapeutic approaches in DNA damage and repair mechanisms in cancer cells. BioMed X and Merck began a unique innovation model in 2013 combining a global crowdsourcing approach with local incubation at the University of Heidelberg's Life Science Campus. So far, according to a BioMed X press release, a total of eight research groups have been recruited to collaborate, sponsored by five global pharma companies, including Merck.

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