05 February 2014

US partnership for quicker action on diseases

The US National Institutes of Health has partnered with drug companies to speed development of biological ways of diagnosing and treating common chronic diseases.

In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the US National Institutes of Health has partnered with 10 drug companies and several non-profit groups to speed development of biological ways of diagnosing and treating common chronic diseases.

The first diseases targeted by the Accelerating Medicines Partnership are Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes and two autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The partnership will invest more than $230 million over five years on these initial projects. The data and analyses that result will be made available to all biomedical researchers, the NIH said.

"Patients and their caregivers are relying on science to find better and faster ways to detect and treat disease and improve their quality of life," NIH director Dr Francis Collins said in an agency news release. "Currently, we are investing a great deal of money and time in avenues with high failure rates, while patients and their families wait. All sectors of the biomedical enterprise agree that new approaches are sorely needed."

Biological indicators

The goal is to learn more about biological indicators of these diseases and to identify biological targets of the diseases that are most likely to respond to new treatments, Collins said.

"Recent dramatic advances in basic research are opening new windows of opportunity for therapeutics," he said. "But this challenge is beyond the scope of any one of us and it's time to work together in new ways to increase our collective odds of success. We believe this partnership is an important first step and represents the most sweeping effort to date to tackle this vital issue."

Currently, development of a new drug can take more than a decade, and the failure rate is more than 95%. As a result, the cost of developing a successful drug is more than $1 billion, according to the NIH.

The partnership components

The Alzheimer's component of the partnership will include large-scale analyses of patients' brain tissue samples. This could help identify biological factors that play important roles in disease progression and also suggest potential new drug targets.

The type 2 diabetes branch of the partnership will examine new and existing data from studies involving 100 000 to 150 000 patients in order to pinpoint promising treatment targets. Efforts will include a focus on DNA regions that might play a role in the development or progression of type 2 diabetes.

The rheumatoid arthritis and lupus section will include collection and analysis of tissue and blood samples from patients to identify biological changes at the cell level. This could offer new insights into critical aspects of development of these diseases, according to the news release.

Including other health problems

Researchers also will attempt to pinpoint differences between rheumatoid arthritis patients who respond to current treatments and those who do not.

If the initial efforts targeting Alzheimer's, diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are successful, the partnership could expand to include other health problems.

Dr Mikael Dolsten, president of worldwide research and development at Pfizer, is enthusiastic about the partnership. Pfizer is one of the pharmaceutical companies involved in the new initiative.

"This type of novel collaboration will leverage the strengths of both industry and the NIH to ensure we expedite translation of scientific knowledge into next-generation therapies to address the urgent needs of Alzheimer's, diabetes and [rheumatoid arthritis] and lupus patients," Dolsten said in the news release.

Steering committees made up of people from both public and private sectors will oversee the research plans in each disease area. The steering committees will be managed by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health under the direction of an executive committee that includes representatives from the NIH, the US Food and Drug Administration, the drug industry and patient advocacy groups.

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