The Germany-based global pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim recently announced the establishment of a research alliance with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) to discover new targets for treating fibrotic diseases, such as chronic kidney disease (CKD), nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
The collaborative project, called Harvard Fibrosis Network, is led by Joseph V. Bonventre, executive committee member of HSCI, and chief of the Renal Unit and the Bioengineering Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It includes researchers from different Harvard schools, as well as Harvard-affiliated hospitals, such as Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Fibrotic diseases, like IPF, CKD, and NASH, are characterized by the formation of excess fibrous connective tissue that is usually associated with irreversible scarring and severe organ inflammation. Although these diseases represent a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, the mechanisms underlying their progression are unclear, which has limited the development of therapeutic approaches for patients with fibrotic diseases.
To address the need for new therapies for fibrotic diseases, studies that offer new mechanistic insights into fibrosis are urgently required. The new Harvard Fibrosis Network will initially develop three projects that will explore new molecular targets and pathways as therapeutic targets for IPF, CKD, and NASH. Researchers will have access to a collection of chemical compounds and to a siRNA library, and will have the support of a bioinformatics team at the HSCI, led by Shannan Ho Sui.
“The breadth and depth of this collaborative effort is yet another reminder of Harvard Stem Cell Institute’s power as both a convener and a driver of research and treatment development,” Bonventre said in a press release. “HSCI has brought together researchers across the Harvard biomedical ecosystem who are working in multiple organ systems with a leading pharmaceutical company with the goal of bringing new therapeutic approaches to a problem which is pervasive in medicine.”
Boehringer Ingelheim has also established a fibrosis cluster in discovery research to support the identification of new molecular targets for immunological, respiratory, and cardiometabolic diseases. One of the targets already identified, nintedanib (Ofev), has already been approved by the U.S. FDA, in the European Union, and in other countries for IPF treatment, and is now being studied in the SENSCIS Phase 3 clinical trial in patients suffering from systemic sclerosis with interstitial lung disease.
“We are very excited about joining forces with this renowned group of fibrosis researchers,” said Clive R. Wood, Ph.D., senior corporate vice president of discovery research at Boehringer Ingelheim. “We strongly believe that the integration of deep medical and preclinical research expertise across multiple fibrotic disorders is centrally important for the discovery of new treatments for patients.”