Biogen Idec and CUMC to Conduct Collaborative Genetics Research

January 09, 2015

Sequencing facility and shared postdoctoral program to support genetic discovery research to advance development of new treatments

Biogen Idec and Columbia University Medical Center have formed a $30 million strategic alliance to conduct genetics discovery research on the underlying causes of disease and to identify new treatment approaches. As part of this agreement, a sequencing and analysis facility and shared postdoctoral program will be established at Columbia to support collaborative genetics research. The agreement will integrate genomics research conducted at Columbia with Biogen Idec’s understanding of disease mechanisms and pathways, and expertise in discovering new medicines.

“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,” said David Goldstein, PhD, founding director of Columbia University’s Institute for Genomic Medicine. “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.”

“Human genetic technologies and analytics have advanced to the point where they are becoming central to the discovery and development of new medicines,” said Tim Harris, PhD, DSc, senior vice president, Technology and Translational Sciences at Biogen Idec. “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.”

The collaboration will enable Biogen Idec and Columbia to investigate the genomes of patients showing unusual treatment responses or unique disease presentations and to explore the connections among genes, pathways, and disease processes. The ultimate goal will be to provide multiple qualified targets for new therapeutic approaches, increasing the potential for the development of new treatments.

“This collaboration with Biogen, with its focus on the genetic causes of diseases, fits in perfectly with Columbia’s commitment to precision medicine,” said Lee Goldman, MD, the Harold and Margaret Hatch Professor of the University and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine. “The development of new treatments based on this genetic understanding will have profound effects on clinical practice.”

The new facility will have broad genetic research capabilities and the capacity to launch and complete whole-genome sequencing projects rapidly. It will allow for rapid population-scale DNA sequencing across a broad range of disease areas, focusing on diseases with significant unmet clinical need such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Tom Maniatis, PhD, the Isidore S. Edelman Professor of Biochemistry, chair of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at Columbia, and director of Columbia’s university-wide precision medicine initiative, said, “The strong clinical and basic science programs in neurodegenerative diseases at Columbia will significantly benefit from the Columbia/Biogen alliance. 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.”