Biogen Idec and Columbia Partner For ALS Genetics Research

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by Isaura Santos |

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A $30 million alliance between Biogen Idec and Columbia University Medical Center was formed to conduct research in genetics and to understand the underlying causes of several diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This new partnership may help identify new treatment approaches to address the largely unmet clinical needs of this disorder.

The agreement between the two institutions states that the new joint genetics research initiative will be established at Columbia University, along with a sequencing and analysis facility, and shared postdoctoral program. Research will be conducted at the university, and Biogen Idec will be providing the expertise, mechanisms and pathways to find new medicines.

The founding director of Columbia University’s research institute, David Goldstein, stated in a press release: “Our understanding of human genetics is rapidly expanding, and there is growing recognition that the elucidation of the genetic causes of disease will have a transformative effect on both patient care and drug development in many different diseases. This collaboration marries the exceptional drug development expertise of Biogen with cutting-edge genomics expertise at Columbia University Medical Center. It will not only focus on target identification and validation at the early stages of drug development, but also facilitate genetically informed evaluation of treatments.”

Tim Harris, PhD, from Biogen Idec said that human genetic technologies and their respective analytic tools have been significantly advanced, and they are now central to discovering and developing new treatments and medicines. “We are committed to working with leading institutions such as Columbia to advance basic genetic research and, by combining our unique strengths, accelerating the discovery of potential new treatments.”

This project’s goal is to study patients’ genomes and find those with unique treatment responses that might unveil connections, pathways and processes that can be targeted and assessed, so new approaches can come up with more effective therapies. Lee Goldman, MD, said that this collaboration with Biogen fits Columbia’s commitment and goals regarding precision medicine and will have direct and profound effects on clinical practice itself.

The new facility will be equipped with the full capability to complete whole-genome sequencing projects quickly, and will allow for rapid population-scale DNA sequencing across ALS and other diseases’ populations.

“We expect that the alliance will dramatically advance our understanding of the genetics of these devastating diseases and ultimately lead to mechanism-based treatments, a key aspect of Columbia’s precision-medicine initiative,” emphasized Tom Maniatis from Columbia.