HEIDELBERG, Germany—Targeted toward the early detection of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's diseases, Hummingbird Diagnostics GmbH of Heidelberg, Germany, and Shenzhen, China-based BGI have joined hands for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at establishing a broad collaboration of miRNA-based molecular diagnostic applications built on next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology. The actual agreement is expected to launch sometime in mid-2018.
A microRNA (miRNA) is a kind of short non-coding RNA—miRNAs play important roles in the regulation of molecular biological processes, and these nucleic acids may be used as biomarkers in the detection of disease.
The terms of the MoU, signed Dec. 6, 2017, call for the companies to jointly develop broad-spectrum targeted miRNA in-vitro diagnostic assays for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and other human pathologies based on Hummingbird’s expertise, sample preparation know-how, miRNA database and a pipeline using BGISEQ (BGI’s own NGS platform) with its advantages for miRNA sequencing. Furthermore, the companies agreed to cooperate in the field of wellness, fitness and aging-related questions in general.
The World Alzheimer Association estimates that 46.8 million people worldwide were living with dementia in 2015. This number will almost double every 20 years, reaching 74.7 million in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050. There are over 9.9 million new cases of dementia each year worldwide, implying one new case every 3.2 seconds. The association’s report also shows that the current annual societal and economic cost of dementia is $818 billion, and it is expected to become a trillion-dollar disease in just three years’ time. The findings show that the cost of dementia has increased by 35 percent since the 2010 World Alzheimer Report estimated costs at $604 billion.
The Parkinson Association of the Carolinas reports that as many as one million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year, and this number does not reflect the thousands of cases that go undetected. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s. The combined direct and indirect cost of Parkinson’s, including treatment, social security payments and lost income from inability to work, is estimated to be nearly $25 billion per year in the United States alone.
“We are very excited to extend our long and very positive relationship with BGI,” said Prof. Andreas Keller, co-founder and chief scientific advisor of Hummingbird, as well as professor for clinical bioinformatics at Saarland University. “Working with a world-leading genomics company like BGI offers the unique opportunity to translate our miRNA research findings faster into personalized medicine, in the interest of patient care and human health management.”
Jochen Kohlhaas, CEO of Hummingbird Diagnostics, added, “For an aging population as a global challenge, there is a growing impetus towards early diagnosis for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's diseases. Working with BGI, the largest global genome research center and sequencing specialist, offers the possibility to advance miRNA-based diagnostics for high throughput.”
Further details are confidential until the agreement is actually completed, according to Hummingbird.
The stage appeared set for the Hummingbird/BGI MoU with Hummingbird’s Nov. 14, 2016, announcement of a comprehensive framework agreement with Saarland University regarding an expanded collaboration in the field of molecular diagnostics.
The collaboration will focus on validating miRNA biomarkers in blood samples, which could enable early detection of diseases such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's diseases.
Saarland’s project partners are the Department of Human Genetics and the Chair of Clinical Bioinformatics in Germany, while Hummingbird Diagnostics has maintained long-standing research collaborations with both of their directors, Keller (Clinical Bioinformatics) and Dr. Eckart Meese (Human Genetics).
Since 2009, the two miRNA experts have been working together successfully in projects involving several disease areas, according to a Hummingbird press release. This partnership resulted in more than 60 scientific publications—including in the journal Nature Methods—as well as a multitude of patents.
The vice president of Saarland University, Prof. Dr. Martina Sester, stated, “With Hummingbird Diagnostics, we acquired an excellent partner, enabling us to translate the outstanding research of Keller and Meese into clinical applications, thus generating significant future benefit for many patients.”
Keller remarked in a press release that, “We know Hummingbird Diagnostics as an innovative and reliable partner with unique expertise in miRNA biomarkers from body fluids. Therefore, we are pleased to further expand the collaboration, allowing us to validate our research results and translate them into clinical practice.”
Hummingbird and Saarland intend to study at least 5,000 samples from patients with pulmonary diseases, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The framework agreement covers the procedures of their collaborative projects and dictates utilization of results, publications, software and intellectual property rights. Hummingbird acquired rights in eight additional patents under this framework as well.