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A trio united against obesity
February 2011
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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ORLANDO, Fla.—Florida Hospital and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, along with Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., in late December signed a research agreement to form a collaboration aimed at discovering and evaluating new therapeutic approaches to obesity.
 
The partnership, the organizations say, "aligns complementary strengths in biomedical research, clinical research and drug development to identify and validate obesity-related biomarkers and new peripheral molecular targets of mutual interest."
 
The problem of obesity is a growing worldwide health problem, but it is particularly notable as an epidemic in the United States, with two-thirds of Americans now overweight or obese, says Dr. Steven R. Smith, scientific director of the Florida Hospital-Sanford-Burnham Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes (TRI), where the Florida Hospital portion of the collaboration's work will be performed.
 
"This partnership with Takeda, TRI and Sanford-Burnham represents a major milestone in the quest for a better understanding of obesity as a disease and a pathway forward for the development of safe and effective therapies," Smith says.
 
This partnership is the first corporate-sponsored research jointly undertaken by Sanford-Burnham at its Lake Nona, Fla., location in and through the TRI. Not only that, but it represents for Takeda "one of the biggest and most ambitious drug discovery research partnerships it has undertaken with the not-for-profit sector—maybe the largest, in fact," notes Dr. Paul Laikind, chief business officer of Sanford-Burnham, though he could not share specific dollar amounts.
 
The plan is for the multi-disciplinary team of basic scientists and clinical researchers at Sanford-Burnham and the TRI to provide Takeda with a research continuum from laboratory bench to bedside, using such advanced technologies as genomic and metabolite profiling. Such tools and resources will be used to identify metabolic signatures, genes and pathways that could serve as biomarkers and novel drug targets that can provide for more personalized medicine-style treatments for obesity and its complications.
 
In addition to using laboratory-based assets, researchers will also conduct in-depth investigation of patient cohorts so that scientists can compare data from experimental models and humans to identify genetic and metabolomic matches.
 
"This research partnership is a collaborative model that capitalizes on the synergistic expertise of each group and provides all partners with access to our cardiometabolic phenotyping, metabolomics and genomics technology cores," said Dr. Daniel P. Kelly, the scientific director of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona in the news release about the deal. "It offers much promise for expediting new drug candidates into Takeda's development pipeline."
 
"There are a lot of changes going on within the pharmaceutical industry right now, and you're seeing more of a focus now on outsourcing and looking externally for discovery," Laikind tells ddn. "That's where you're going to see a lot of products that will patch holes in the pipeline, if you will, which is a practical concern. But it's also a recognition that while the spend on drug discovery has increased in the industry, the output in terms of actual compounds approved has gone down, so the industry is looking for alternative ways to fuel drug discovery, and that's part of this approach with programs like ours."
 
Also, Laikind admits, it is good for the non-profit and academic sectors, because entities within that realm are seeing less funding from places like the National Institutes of Health, "which are traditionally our bread and butter," he says, "so using these kind of structures to fuel research at our end also makes a lot of sense."
 
This two-year collaborative agreement includes research funding from Takeda divided between Florida Hospital-TRI and Sanford-Burnham. Laikind notes that Takeda has some specific obesity targets in mind, Sanford-Burnham and TRI have obesity research in which they are vested and both will be addressed in this collaboration, as well as perhaps finding new targets and leads together that none of the partners has yet pursued.
 
"We view this collaboration as an opportunity to further Takeda's goal of identifying targets for new therapeutics to treat obesity and its negative health consequences, including metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease," said Dr. Paul Chapman, general manager and head of the Pharmaceutical Research Division of Takeda, in a prepared statement.
 
The TRI's new 54,000 square-foot, advanced translational research facility is currently under construction at Florida Hospital's Health Village in Orlando and is expected to open by the end of 2011.
 
Code: E021118

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