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Tackling ‘the Big C’
May 2011
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author
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SEATTLE—With an eye toward the future of sharing data across company lines to combat cancer, Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit biomedical research organization, and global pharmaceutical AstraZeneca PLC have formed a partnership aimed at using advanced computational models of disease genetics developed at Sage to customize oncology treatments for individual cancer patients. This collaboration is expected to result in new, more potent therapeutics against the deadly disease colloquially known as the "Big C."
 
With offices at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Sage will combine its expertise in computer models of disease genetics with AstraZeneca's expertise in oncology, as well as access the drug manufacturer's compounds to investigate regulatory pathways common in different cancers. The work will use large coherent cancer genomic datasets and predictive disease models developed by Sage. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
 
Despite millions of dollars spent on cancer research, drug development and prevention programs such as tobacco companies' anti-smoking campaigns, the disease has escalated. The World Health Organization estimates the incidence of cancer to continue rising to reach an estimated 9.2 million deaths in 2015, reflecting the need for novel therapies to reach patients quickly and efficiently—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 repository and 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 on cancer is for scientists, researchers and pharmaceutical companies across the globe to join forces and work together. In fact, Friend co-founded Sage with the idea to build open-access, integrative bionetworks, with the primary goal to accelerate the elimination of human disease through a new paradigm for drug development research focused on large-scale, multidimensional models of biological systems, rather than traditional linear pathways.
 
Friend is driving an effort to build an open-source collaborative effort called Sage Commons, a place where data and disease models can be shared in the hopes of deepening scientists' understanding of disease biology. This will require not just data, but a huge cultural shift, Friend says.
 
The collaboration with AstraZeneca came about naturally, he adds.
 
"Several of us have had ties over decades," Friend tells ddn. "The idea to do this collaboration occurred between scientists 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 understanding translational medicine approaches that are guided by biomarkers. The company also has a growing reputation for being innovative in their molecular analyses of pathways."
 
John Gustofson, AstraZeneca's business development director, says his company brings to the table "extensive knowledge and capabilities in cancer biology including key cancer pathways."
 
"We believe Sage can expand and complement our current approaches utilizing cancer genomics data, and assist with identification of new potential targets or clinical opportunities for development therapies," Gustofson says.
 
The specific types of cancer to be targeted have "yet to be determined, as it will be chosen according to which data sets to be examined are the most informative," Friend says, but Gustofson adds that the partnership with Sage will focus on "solid tumors associated with specific oncogene mutations." 
 

 
Sage Bionetworks partners with CHDI Foundation, Takeda on neurobiological diseases
 

SEATTLE—Sage Bionetworks also recently announced that it will build advanced computational models of neurobiological disease through partnerships with the CHDI Foundation and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.
 
Sage Bionetworks and CHDI are engaged in a project to apply advanced computational modeling to the discovery and development of biomarkers and therapies for Huntington's disease (HD). Initially, Sage Bionetworks and CHDI will work with Massachusetts General Hospital colleagues to conduct a worldwide inventory of HD tissues available for research purposes. Their intention is to analyze these materials using computational genomics to identify key genes in disease progression and assess the validity of model HD systems.
 
 In addition, Sage Bionetworks has also formed a four-year research alliance with Takeda that will focus on discovering effective therapeutic targets for central nervous system (CNS) diseases. Using its integrated genomics methods, Sage Bionetworks scientists will build predictive computational models and identify key regulatory genes and predictive biomarkers in patients with CNS diseases including schizophrenia. Scientists at the two companies will then collaborate to discover and prioritize the targets holding the greatest potential for molecular intervention. Under the terms of the agreement, Takeda will provide more than $3.6 million over four years in research funding and fees.  
 
Analyses and the resulting models from both partnerships will be deposited in the Sage Bionetworks repository and will be valuable public resources available to all interested researchers.

 
Code: E051107

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