EMD Serono said today it launched a research collaboration with Pfizer and The Broad Institute focused on the genomic profiling of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and lupus nephritis (LN) patients. The value of the collaboration was not disclosed. 

EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, and Pfizer will jointly fund the collaboration, in return for receiving real-time access to all data and analysis. The companies can each send a research scientist to the Broad Institute to exchange technology expertise in computational and experimental genomic profiling.

The Broad will use biochemical and next-generation sequencing technologies to investigate clinical samples obtained from SLE and LN patients. The institute will also analyze immune cell subpopulations.

The collaboration is aimed at identifying biomarkers to better define target patient populations for future therapies. Through computational modeling approaches, the project aims to identify key molecular drivers of SLE and LN kidney flares, then find the candidate immune pathways underlying LN, which could serve as potential new drug targets for future therapies.

“We will collect millions of unbiased measurements from lupus patients over many time points along with key clinical variables. We will use this dataset to infer active biological pathways in these patients and develop novel dynamic models of Lupus pathogenesis,” Nir Hacohen, Ph.D., associate professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and senior associate member at the Broad Institute, said in a statement.

EMD Serono has an SLE experimental drug in Phase II of its research pipeline, atacicept, an anti-Blys/anti-APRIL fusion protein. Pfizer's pipeline includes a Phase II anti-IL-6 antibody indicated for lupus as well as Crohn's disease.

The new collaboration is the third announced in as many years by EMD Serono focused on lupus. Last year the company joined the Feinstein Institute in launching a preclinical program to develop antibodies to treat SLE by inhibiting the action of certain proteins responsible for inflammation in the pathogenesis of the disorder. As part of the collaboration, EMD Serono agreed to fund a research program at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York.

In 2012, EMD Serono awarded an unrestricted educational grant whose value was not disclosed at the time to The Lupus Research Institute (LRI). The grant supported the first year of a study looking at whether harmful B1 cells were responsible for producing the antibodies that attack the body’s own immune system in lupus, led by Thomas L. Rothstein, MD, PhD investigator and head of the Feinstein Institute's Center for Oncology and Cell Biology.

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