On the hunt against Huntington’s disease

Charles River rides trending CRO growth, extends CHDI Huntington’s disease collaboration

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WILMINGTON, Mass.—Charles River Laboratories International Inc. and CHDI Foundation Inc. have extended their ongoing collaboration for an additional five years through 2019. The collaboration, which began in 2005, is focused on discovering novel drugs for Huntington’s disease.
Over the course of this nine-year relationship, CHDI has expanded the collaboration with Charles River’s Early Discovery division due to its neuroscience expertise and comprehensive integrated drug discovery capability, the two organizations said in a news release. Charles River provides a full range of research activities and expertise in the neuroscience area for CHDI, including integrated biology and chemistry capabilities, complex primary neuronal assay development, high-content screening, fragment-based screening, computational chemistry, ADME/PK and protein crystallography.
On March 31, 2014, Charles River acquired BioFocus and its sister company, Argenta. As a result of the addition of the BioFocus and Argenta early discovery capabilities, Charles River now provides clients with a unique portfolio of integrated in-vitro and in-vivo capabilities from target identification through preclinical development.
The breadth of services provided by Charles River to CHDI is representative of a growing trend. According to Charles River, a recent report from the Biotechnology Industry Organization found that between 2001 and 2012, the contract research organization (CRO) and medical lab sectors experienced job growth of more than 28 percent—almost four times the growth rate of overall life-sciences jobs.
At Charles River, two-thirds of the company's new hires in 2013 came from pharma or biotech. One of those scientists is Dr. Emily Hickey, Charles River corporate vice president of Discovery Research Services, who recently left a high-level position as Merck & Co.'s executive director of In Vivo Pharmacology to come to Charles River’s Wilmington campus to manage strategic alliances with pharma companies, a role she knew well from managing CROs at Merck.
Dr. Hickey spoke with DDNews about this trend. Big pharma, she notes, needs “early discovery brain matter.” Biotechs, on the other hand, are often “virtual.” CROs, and specifically Charles River, seek to find a balance, sitting between biotechs and big pharma to link both sectors. “We’re getting closer to it,” she opines. When asked what the picture might look like in 10 years, she agrees that big pharma will be largely keyed into regulatory and marketing activities, “plus a few brains to plug into discovery, preclinical and clinical. They’re not ready yet to take their fingers completely out of the mix.”
“Charles River’s early drug discovery team continues to deliver expert technologies and deep scientific expertise to enable our drug discovery research in the fight against Huntington’s disease,” said Dr. Robert Pacifici, chief scientific officer at CHDI. “We are pleased to extend our ongoing relationship with Charles River, one of our largest and longest-standing contract research collaborators.”
Huntington's disease is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder caused by a mutation in the huntingtin gene. Each child of a parent with a mutation in the huntingtin gene has a 50-50 chance of inheriting the mutation. As a result of carrying the mutation, an individual's brain cells fail and die, leading to cognitive and physical impairments that, over the course of the disease, significantly impair the individual's quality of life and ultimately cause death. It is estimated that one person in 10,000 carries the mutated huntingtin gene. There is currently no way to delay the onset of symptoms or slow the progression of the disease.
CHDI is a privately funded, not-for-profit, biomedical research organization that is exclusively dedicated to rapidly discovering and developing therapies that slow the progression of Huntington’s disease. The organization's scientists work closely with a network of more than 600 researchers in academic and industrial laboratories around the world in the pursuit of these novel therapies, providing strategic scientific direction to ensure that common goals remain in focus. This helps bridge the translational gap that often exists between academic and industrial research pursuits and that adds costly delays to therapy development. In its role as a collaborative enabler, CHDI seeks to bring the right partners together to identify and address critical scientific issues and move drug candidates to clinical evaluation as rapidly as possible. Activities extend from exploratory biology to the identification and validation of therapeutic targets, and from drug discovery and development to clinical studies and trials.

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