CORK, Ireland—Janssen Biotech Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre’s (APC) Microbiome Institute of Cork, Ireland, have established a new research alliance to explore the role that viruses play in shaping the human microbiome and their potential use as biomarkers and/or novel treatments of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny announced the alliance in Washington, D.C., during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
APC Director Prof. Fergus Shanahan and Prof. Colin Hill, project leader, will lead the project at the APC Microbiome Institute. Researchers from the APC Microbiome Institute and immunology scientists from Janssen will work together to investigate how viruses affect the microbiome’s composition and influence health and disease. No terms for the alliance were disclosed.
“We are very excited at the opportunity to explore the role of these microbial viruses with Janssen. While most people are familiar with human viruses, it is not as well known that bacteria also have viruses which can drastically influence bacterial populations. These bacterial viruses are necessary for a balanced ecosystem, which is vital for the overall health of the host,” said Hill. “Janssen are the perfect partners for this endeavor as they combine a strong interest in the fundamental science through the Immunology Therapeutic Area along with a track record of bringing innovative new medicines to the market.”
The APC, which has a network of 170 clinicians investigating the microbiome, is located at University College Cork and Teagasc, Moorepark, County Cork. It is a partnership between University College Cork, Teagasc (the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority) and the Cork Institute of Technology to research the microbiome. The APC Microbiome Institute is the Irish research institute for diet, medicine and the microbiome.
While this is the first time Janssen has collaborated with the APC Microbiome Institute, Dr. Scott Plevy, inflammatory bowel disease leader for the Immunology Therapeutic Area in Janssen Research & Development LLC, says the latter stood out as a potential partner given their “large group of world-class investigators focused on the microbiome with particular experience in IBD and an interest/expertise in exploring this novel area of phages and viruses in the pathogenesis of IBD.”
“This collaboration with the APC Microbiome Institute represents an important endeavor for Janssen. The role of phage in shaping the microbiota in health and disease is relatively unexplored, and we have an opportunity to collaborate with leading scientists in the field to characterize novel biology and develop new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities for inflammatory bowel disease,” he noted.
The human microbiome comprises trillions of microorganisms that reside in the gut, mouth, skin and elsewhere on the body, and it plays a role in the digestive tract, immune system and other biological systems.
“Within Immunology, we are specifically interested in how the microbiome interacts with the immune system and how changes to the microbiome may influence both the initiation of autoimmune disease and the maintenance of those diseases through the interruption of normal regulation of the immune system,” Plevy tells DDNews. “We’re utilizing the knowledge around the microbiome to develop more targeted and personalized therapeutics, looking at how the microbiome affects patients’ response to treatment and whether there are biomarkers that we can identify that will be useful in directing the right patients to the right therapy. There are huge opportunities to one day allow people to assess their personal health state through diagnostic tools, which would then direct a treatment approach where we would correct abnormal microbiome activity through targeted therapeutics.”
“This is a whole new lens through which we are assessing how the immune system functions in patients with autoimmune disease, and we see value not just in IBD, but also in rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and even conditions outside of the immunology space,” he adds. “It’s a very exciting time, and we are proud that Janssen is leading the industry in pursuing the promising potential of the microbiome for the benefit of patients worldwide.”
This isn’t the only recent partnership for the APC Microbiome Institute, which began another alliance in late April—this one with Second Genome Inc., a South San Francisco, Calif.-based company specializing in developing novel medicines through innovative microbiome science. The organizations will seek to advance the development of therapies that could prevent and treat IBD by exploring the microbiome’s role in the disease and identifying bacterial species and mechanisms that drive IBD biology.