Edwin Silverman, MD, PhD, chief of the Channing division of network medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Bayer will spend more than $30 million over the next five years to fund joint research projects with Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) at a new joint lab opened by the three to research new drug candidates to treat chronic lung diseases.

The new joint lab is designed to combine Bayer’s capabilities in drug discovery and development with complementary clinical expertise, understanding of disease mechanisms, data analysis capabilities, and insights from physician-scientists at MGH and BWH, where the lab is located.

Bayer, BWH, and MGH said they have agreed to share equally the rights to research findings generated at the new lab. The partners are defining chronic lung disease to include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other diseases of the airways and other structures of the lung.

More than 20 people from all three organizations will work in combined teams at the lab. Among them will be Edwin Silverman, MD, PhD, chief of the Channing division of network medicine at BWH; Bruce Levy, MD, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at BWH; Benjamin Medoff, MD, chief of pulmonary and critical care at MGH; and Markus Koch, PhD, head of preclinical research, lung diseases at Bayer.

“We already conduct research across a range of lung diseases, and we were looking for a strong partner to complement our own expertise,” stated Joerg Moeller, MD, PhD, a member of the executive committee of Bayer AG’s Pharmaceuticals Division and head of research and development.

COPD, IPF drive collaboration

Joerg Moeller, MD, PhD, member of the executive committee of Bayer AG’s Pharmaceuticals Division and head of research and development

Moeller joined Silverman, Medoff, and Levy, in discussing how the collaboration arose, in a conversation posted on Bayer’s website.

“We were especially interested in further researching severe forms of COPD and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) to generate investigational new medicines, which could finally provide life-changing options for patients,” Moeller said.

Added Silverman: “Bayer approached BWH and MGH about developing a research collaboration for chronic lung diseases due to our long track record of successful scientific investigations in COPD and IPF, including epidemiology, genetics, imaging, molecular and cellular biology, and clinical trials.

He said the joint lab would tap into the expertise of BWH investigators in cell and molecular biology of lung disease, genetics, imaging, and bioinformatics—expertise that he said would complement the expertise of Bayer investigators in drug development, pharmacology, and medicinal chemistry.

“We anticipate that we will learn a great deal from each other during this collaboration, and that those complementary strengths will lead to greater progress than either group could make by themselves,” Silverman said.

Levy noted that BWH investigators have led studies identifying more than 80 regions of the genome that are associated with COPD. “We conducted cellular and animal model studies of some of these genes which have confirmed their role in COPD susceptibility. MGH investigators also have extensive experience in interstitial lung disease research, complementing the work carried out at BWH.”

MGH, Medoff stated, has had a long-standing research program in the basic mechanisms of lung fibrosis and a growing program in imaging, pathology, and clinical trials in interstitial lung disease.

“When we met with Bayer it was clear they shared the same passion for investigation and development of novel therapeutics for these devastating diseases,” Medoff added.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 140,000 Americans dying of the disease each year—and more than 15 million Americans affected.

Raising regional presence

Bayer said the new joint lab will heighten its presence in the Boston/Cambridge, MA, region—which maintained its top ranking in GEN’s updated A-List of Top 10 U.S. Biopharma Clusters, published on Monday:

  • BWH is located in Boston’s Longwood Medical and Academic Area.
  • In March, Bayer told The Boston Globe it would build a cancer R&D site in Cambridge that will more than triple its regional staff from 20 to 75 when it opens in 2021. Bayer said it would pay MIT $100 million for a 12-year contract of approximately 62,100 square feet of office and lab space at Kendall Square, plus spend about $200 million toward building new labs, acquiring R&D facilities, and staff wages and benefits.
  • Last year, Bayer’s pharmaceutical business development & licensing team facilitated a company partnership with the Cambridge-based Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. They launched a new Precision Cardiology Laboratory that uses genomic and nongenomic approaches to learn more about heart failure, with the aim of developing new precision treatments.

The joint lab also reflects Bayer’s commitment, expressed last year, to shifting pharmaceutical R&D toward external collaborations, and away from internal research operations, when it announced a restructuring through which it will eliminate about 12,000 jobs worldwide by the end of 2021—approximately 10% of its total workforce. In addition to cutting costs, Bayer has said the restructuring will enable it to streamline operations and accelerate pipeline development.

“By setting up joint project teams, ideas and novel findings are directly integrated into the pipeline, thereby speeding up the time required to move a new treatment into the clinic,” Moeller added.

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