International team tackles cancer

BMS launches global academic collaboration to focus on immuno-oncology

PRINCETON, N.J.—Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMS) is partneringwith nearly a dozen universities and research centers from around the globethat have a common focus on advancing the understanding of the human immunesystem's ability to fight cancer.
 
 
The International Immuno-Oncology Network (II-ON) will becomprised of 10 cancer research institutions: Clinica Universidad Navarra inPamplona, Spain; the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; the Earle A.Chiles Research Institute (Providence Health & Services) in Portland, Ore.;the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France; Instituto Nazionale per loStudio e la Cura dei Tumori Fondazione G. Pascale in Naples, Italy; the JohnsHopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Md.; the Memorial Sloan-KetteringCancer Center in New York; the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and theInstitute of Cancer Research in London; the Netherlands Cancer Institute inAmsterdam; and finally, the University of Chicago.
 
 
A key goal of the collaborative forum is to facilitate thetranslation of scientific research findings into clinical trials and,eventually, clinical practice. It also will work to further advance innovationin drug discovery and development.
 
"All research projects conducted by the II-ON will berelated to the immuno-oncology disease area," says BMS spokeswoman SarahKoenig. "II-ON integrates innovation from preclinical research, translationalscience and clinical investigation to focus the right immuno-oncology agents tothe right patients."
 
 
The use of cell-based immunotherapy to target cancer hasbeen around since the late 1980s. It has only been in recent years that it hasyielded results, including BMS' own antibodies Yervoy (ipilimumab) for skincancer and Erbitux (cetuximab) for metastatic colorectal cancer and head andneck cancer.
 
 
Koenig says immuno-oncologyis a prioritized area of R&D for BMS, which is already studying a varietyof compounds based on the theory of immunotherapy or the immune system's ownability to fight cancer.
 
 
"The company is committed to leading advances in thisimportant field of research and is exploring a variety of innovative compoundsand immunotherapeutic approaches to help address significant unmet medicalneeds in a broad range of cancers," she says. "It is expected that BMS willprovide funding for specific research projects to be planned and agreed upon,and carried out in collaboration with the II-ON institutions."
 
 
The new partnership will develop the principles behind thesemedicines even further, with research covering a variety of cancer types. Thecollaboration also could prove to be a windfall of information for the researchgroups participating.
 
"It will help us move these treatments through clinicaltrials faster than would otherwise be possible," says Dr. Walter Urba, directorof the Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center in the Earle A. Chiles ResearchInstitute at the Providence Cancer Center, which has been engaged inimmunotherapy research for 18 years. "We consider immunotherapy as the fourthmethod of treatment of patients with cancer. People are used to chemotherapy,surgery and radiation, but those all have their limitations."
 
 
"We must continue the advancement of this importantresearch, and this network is exactly what is needed," adds Bernie Fox, chiefof Providence's Laboratory of Molecular and Tumor Immunology. "Whilechemotherapy, surgery and radiation can have potent anticancer effects, havingthe patient's immune system recognize cancer cells is necessary for a patientto be cured. This network will provide us with new treatments designed to boostthe immune system's response to cancer."
 
Providence leaders believe their commitment to translationalresearch played a significant part in the invitation from BMS to join thenetwork.
 
 
"Translational research is the bench-to-bedside idea ofmoving a treatment quickly from the lab into the patient," says Fox. "Many ofus at Providence were trained at the National Cancer Institute and adopted itsmandate of rapidly moving ideas from the laboratory to the patient—and we havethe experience to know how to deal with and observe toxicities as they occur."
 
 
Rapid translation of well-researched and safe treatments isa goal of the network. The collaboration will allow top researchers around theworld to work closely, sharing knowledge and data that will ultimately providemore clinical trials to more patients than ever before.
 
 
"This will speed up finding a cure and allow us to providemore effective therapies to patients battling cancer," says Fox.
 
BMS did not disclose the full terms of the agreement withthe institutes. Urba did say it would bring millions of dollars in annualresearch funding to his research team for the next five years.
 
 
The BMS effort may be a sign of things to come in medicalresearch as a result of shrinking federal support. The U.S. National Institutesof Health budget has grown slower than the rate of inflation for the last eightyears. A researcher's chances of landing an NIH grant have dropped to 18percent, down from more than 30 percent for several years prior to 2004.
 
 


BMS and TsinghuaUniversity in structural biology deal
 
 
PRINCETON, N.J.—Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMS) and TsinghuaUniversity of Beijing, China, announced in May the formation of a multiyearstrategic partnership. Under the agreement, BMS will fund research efforts atTsinghua University's School of Life Sciences to identify and validate noveltargets in oncology and immunoscience. The collaboration will also focus onstructural biology research, the science of mapping the 3D protein structure ofbiological molecular targets that could serve as the basis for future drugdiscovery projects. 
 
"This is Bristol-Myers Squibb's first discoverycollaboration in China and is an example of the company's deepening commitmentto the country," said Dr. Francis Cuss, senior vice president of research atthe pharma. "We are delighted to be working with Tsinghua University, aworld-renowned and highly esteemed research-based academic institution withexpertise in target identification and structural biology that will support thediscovery of new medicines to fight serious diseases in China and around theworld."
 
 
Tsinghua University was founded more than a century ago.With the motto of "Self-Discipline and Social Commitment" and the spirit of"Actions Speak Louder than Words," Tsinghua University is dedicated to thewell-being of Chinese society and to world development.
 
 
"I strongly believe that future cooperation between TsinghuaUniversity and Bristol-Myers Squibb will bring about further-reachingconsequences to both organizations, and I wish every success in thiscooperation," said Prof. Kejun Kang, vice president of the university.
 


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