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Diabetes a sweet spot for collaboration
September 2009
by David Hutton  |  Email the author


NEW YORK—The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) will collaborate with Novartis' genomics research arm in a drug discovery and development program focused on type 1 diabetes, the parties announced in August.  
The JDRF and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) will create a diabetes drug discovery and development platform. The four-year program is one of the largest and most comprehensive collaborations in the 40-year history of JDRF, a leader in setting the agenda for diabetes research worldwide and the largest charitable funder and advocate of type 1 diabetes research.
According to Dr. Alan J. Lewis, president and CEO of JDRF, the agreement with GNF opens exciting new avenues for JDRF to speed the translation of basic research into drugs and treatments for type 1 diabetes.
"By creating this highly interactive collaboration with a world class organization with demonstrated expertise in discovering and developing innovative therapeutics for medical needs, we are looking to expand both the targets and the realm of possible treatments that can benefit people living with diabetes," he says.  
San Diego-based GNF conducts genomics and proteomics research that includes high-throughput screening of genes and compounds, structural genomics and mammalian genetics, among others.  
When considering the partnership, there were several factors that made Genomics Institute a good fit for the JDRF, according to Dr. Patricia Killian, director of regeneration at JDRF. The foundation, she says, believes it is critical to form partnerships with major pharma and biotechs in order to speed the translation of basic research findings into clinical realities for people with diabetes.
"The GNF-JDRF partnership to support drug discovery and development is addressing this critical gap in the diabetes drug development pipeline," she says. "GNF has the resources and capabilities to fill the critical gap to help advance JDRF's drug discovery pipeline from target discovery and validation to high-throughput screening, lead optimization, animal pharmacology and each stage through IND by enabling studies for type 1 diabetes therapeutics—with a built-in potential for uptake by Novartis for clinical trials."  
Killian adds the Genomic Institute also has demonstrated success over the years in helping to advance drug candidates with Novartis in a range of therapeutic areas, and the team, composed of more than 550 scientists and technical staff, is committed to finding new treatments for diabetes.  
The focus of the collaboration between the JDRF and GNF is to deliver a succession of drug candidates to the clinic over the next four years. The initial focus will be on pancreatic beta cell regeneration and survival to restore beta cell function in diabetes. The program builds on current JDRF funding at GNF that has resulted in the discovery of beta cell regeneration drug targets and candidates, and allows for the inclusion of JDRF-funded projects and other discoveries into the program.
"Through this collaboration with JDRF, we are looking to create a unique program of translational research that fully exploits the strengths of each partner to produce a continuous source of novel insights, drug targets, and drug candidates," says Dr. Peter Schultz, lead GNF investigator and institute director.
JDRF, Schultz and GNF aren't strangers to each other, and according to Killian, the partnership isn't the first time that the foundation and the Genomics Institute have worked together.
"Since September 2007, JDRF has provided research funding to Dr. Peter Schultz and his team to investigate a chemical approach to beta cell regeneration," she notes. "The goal of the grant award made at that time was to identify chemicals that promote the replication of pancreatic beta-cells by screening a large chemical library, to improve these molecules through chemical modification, and to study the mechanisms of these compounds and show that they can induce beta-cell regeneration in an animal model."  
Projects within the collaboration will be chosen and managed by a combined review committee of JDRF and GNF representatives, with oversight from a scientific advisory board and JDRF volunteers.  
"As part of this program, GNF has an agreement with Novartis regarding commercialization rights, as is true of all GNF activities," adds Killian. "There are provisions in the JDRF-GNF agreement if Novartis declines to exercise its commercialization option, which would allow for the continued advancement of discoveries made in the program toward the clinic."  
Killian also points out that the long-term goal of the partnership will be to deliver a succession of novel IND candidates for out-licensing or co-development for people at all stages of type 1 diabetes (established disease, new-onset, at-risk). 
"The pipeline of drug candidates may build on ongoing GNF programs and expertise new programs initiated at GNF, and academic partnerships," she says. "By bringing together JDRF's research networks, early discovery pipeline, knowledge and leading position in the diabetes research world, with GNF's expertise in high-throughput chemistry, cell biology and various technologies, resources and know-how in drug discovery and development, the proposed partnership strives to create a unique translational program for type 1 diabetes."  
The result, according to Dr. Richard A. Insel, executive vice president for research at JDRF, is an exciting evolution of the foundation's research strategy for discovering and developing diabetes therapeutics.  
"The partnership provides JDRF access to a highly talented group of scientists, state-of-the-art drug discovery technology, and an organization with a proven track record of delivering drugs to the clinic to address a critical gap in research—advancing basic research, often arising from academia, into drug discovery and development," he says. "The JDRF-GNF partnership should jumpstart the creation of a multi-product pipeline for beta cell regeneration, a therapeutic priority for JDRF."  

Diabetes? There's an app for that  
AgaMatrix unveils WaveSense Diabetes Manager, a diabetes logbook software application for the iPhone and iPod Touch
SALEM, N.H.—AgaMatrix has announced the debut of WaveSense Diabetes Manager, a diabetes logbook software application for iPhone and iPod Touch.
AgaMatgrix produces the WaveSense line of blood glucose monitoring products. The WaveSense App is the first of its kind to be developed by a blood glucose meter manufacturer that is now available on the iTunes App Store by Apple Inc. The app is available for download at no charge. The company says its app, in development and testing for over a year, lays the foundation for a series of products to come that will take advantage of the iPhone and other mobile technology platforms to assist people with diabetes in the management of their disease.  
The WaveSense Diabetes Manager can help users track their glucose results, carbohydrate intake and insulin doses. All that's needed is to input the data the app asks  for on the iPhones, and within seconds, it's possible to review data including convenient charts and graphs and gain a new perspective on diabetes management. The software also allows e-mailing of those charts to a professional healthcare team if users wanted to have a second opinion.
"Leveraging mobile technology to deliver better patient care is a major trend in the making and has the potential to transform the management of chronic diseases, such as diabetes," says Dr. Irl Hirsch, an internationally recognized diabetes specialist and professor of medicine at the University of Washington. "With the launch of the WaveSense Diabetes Manager, WaveSense is setting the bar in the new disease management paradigm with a combination of an extensive feature set and very intuitive user interface. I'm eagerly awaiting their pipeline of products which will no doubt be cutting-edge and first-in-category."
Benjamin Satterfield, CEO of 23 Divide and creator of Gigotron, says he has been involved with the development of several apps for the App Store, and in a statement says he is "impressed with this medical app's outstanding utility and thoughtful design."
"I'm personally excited by the app because it affects me on a more personal level since my grandfather suffers from diabetes," says Satterfield.

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