Tackling ‘the Big C’

Seattle-based nonprofit Sage Bionetworks, AstraZeneca team up to match cancer patients with best treatment

Lori Lesko
SEATTLE—With an eye toward the future of sharing data acrosscompany lines to combat cancer, Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit biomedicalresearch organization, and global pharmaceutical AstraZeneca PLC have formed apartnership aimed at using advanced computational models of disease geneticsdeveloped at Sage to customize oncology treatments for individual cancerpatients. This collaboration is expected to result in new, more potenttherapeutics against the deadly disease colloquially known as the "Big C."
 
With offices at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centerin Seattle, Sage will combine its expertise in computer models of diseasegenetics with AstraZeneca's expertise in oncology, as well as access the drugmanufacturer's compounds to investigate regulatory pathways common in differentcancers. The work will use large coherent cancer genomic datasets andpredictive disease models developed by Sage.
The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
 
Despite millions of dollars spent on cancer research, drugdevelopment and prevention programs such as tobacco companies' anti-smokingcampaigns, the disease has escalated.
The World Health Organization estimates the incidence ofcancer to continue rising to reach an estimated 9.2 million deaths in 2015,reflecting the need for novel therapies to reach patients quickly andefficiently—as well as find better ways to match patients with treatments.
 
Dr. Stephen H. Friend, Sage Bionetworks' co-founder,president and CEO, says the partnership is a win-win for everyone.
 
"Sage Bionetworks gets to work with an industry innovator,and the resultant computational models will be placed in our public repositoryand available to all researchers following the completion of the project,"Friend says. "Most importantly, we hope patients will gain better drugs."
 
Friend says he believes the best way to win the war oncancer is for scientists, researchers and pharmaceutical companies across theglobe to join forces and work together. In fact, Friend co-founded Sage withthe idea to build open-access, integrative bionetworks, with the primary goalto accelerate the elimination of human disease through a new paradigm for drugdevelopment research focused on large-scale, multidimensional models ofbiological systems, rather than traditional linear pathways.
 
Friend is driving an effort to build an open-sourcecollaborative effort called Sage Commons, a place where data and disease modelscan be shared in the hopes of deepening scientists' understanding of diseasebiology. This will require not just data, but a huge cultural shift, Friendsays.
 
The collaboration with AstraZeneca came about naturally, headds.
 
"Several of us have had ties over decades," Friend tells ddn. "The idea to do this collaboration occurred betweenscientists at BIO in a casual conversation after a presentation we gave."
 
Friend says AstraZeneca is a good partner because"AstraZeneca has new leadership that clearly champions understandingtranslational medicine approaches that are guided by biomarkers. The companyalso has a growing reputation for being innovative in their molecular analysesof pathways."
 
John Gustofson, AstraZeneca's business development director,says his company brings to the table "extensive knowledge and capabilities incancer biology including key cancer pathways."
 
"We believe Sage can expand and complement our currentapproaches utilizing cancer genomics data, and assist with identification ofnew potential targets or clinical opportunities for development therapies,"Gustofson says.
 
The specific types of cancer to be targeted have "yet to bedetermined, as it will be chosen according to which data sets to be examinedare the most informative," Friend says, but Gustofson adds that the partnershipwith Sage will focus on "solid tumors associated with specific oncogenemutations." 
 

 
Sage Bionetworks partners with CHDI Foundation, Takeda onneurobiological diseases
 

SEATTLE—Sage Bionetworks also recently announced that itwill build advanced computational models of neurobiological disease throughpartnerships with the CHDI Foundation and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.
 
Sage Bionetworks and CHDI are engaged in a project to applyadvanced computational modeling to the discovery and development of biomarkersand therapies for Huntington's disease (HD). Initially, Sage Bionetworks andCHDI will work with Massachusetts
General Hospital colleagues to conduct a worldwide inventoryof HD tissues available for research purposes. Their intention is to analyzethese materials using computational genomics to identify key genes in diseaseprogression and assess the validity of model HD systems.
 
 In addition, Sage Bionetworks has also formed a four-yearresearch alliance with Takeda that will focus on discovering effectivetherapeutic targets for central nervous system
(CNS) diseases. Using its integrated genomics methods, SageBionetworks scientists will build predictive computational models and identifykey regulatory genes and predictive biomarkers in patients with CNS diseasesincluding schizophrenia. Scientists at the two companies will then collaborateto discover and prioritize the targets holding the greatest potential formolecular intervention. Under the terms of the agreement, Takeda will providemore than $3.6 million over four years in research funding and fees.
 
 
Analyses and the resulting models from both partnershipswill be deposited in the Sage Bionetworks repository and will be valuablepublic resources available to all interested researchers.


Lori Lesko

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