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Boston University enters research agreement with Janssen

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(Boston)–In an effort to accelerate disease interception approaches to the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has entered into a $10.1 million research agreement with Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. Together with the Janssen Disease Interception Accelerator and Oncology Therapeutic Area, scientific teams will analyze data from the Detection of Early Lung Cancer Among Military Personnel (DECAMP) consortium, a multidisciplinary translational research program, to advance the development of targeted therapeutics for the interception of COPD and lung cancer.

"Through the identification of molecular biomarkers, we see an opportunity to screen people at risk for COPD and lung cancer and predict those who may be progressing towards disease so that we can intercede and intercept disease progression," explained Avrum Spira, MD, MS, professor of medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine at BUSM and principal investigator of the grant. "Working with samples from the DECAMP study and together with Janssen scientists, we hope to advance our ability to identify and understand molecular biomarkers that will aid in the discovery and development of more targeted therapies in the future for these devastating lung diseases."

As part of the four-year collaboration, research teams at BUSM and Janssen will collaborate to define baseline and longitudinal disease profiles in COPD at the transcriptomic level, including extensive imaging analysis and integration of clinical data parameters, in an effort to apply targeted therapeutic intervention in COPD. The teams will also focus on characterizing the transcriptomic alterations associated with early progression of lung cancer. The Janssen-sponsored research agreement will support expansion of the consortium and pursuit of additional molecular biomarkers that will enable development of disease interception approaches focused on COPD and lung cancer.

COPD, the third leading cause of death in the US, is a chronic progressive respiratory disease associated with tobacco smoking for which no effective therapies exists to reverse or halt disease progression. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and the world, with cigarette smoking as its major cause. The number of lung cancer-related deaths has remained essentially unchanged over the last three decades, in part because of the inability to detect lung cancer at its earliest–and potentially–curable stage. Military personnel and veterans, compared with the general population, have higher rates of lung cancer and COPD caused by smoking and exposure to other substances known to cause cancer, such as radon, asbestos, fuel exhaust and other battlefield emissions.

Spira and his colleagues, including Marc Lenburg, PhD, and George O'Connor, MD, professors of medicine at BUSM, are working to develop and validate airway genomic biomarkers that can be used for the early detection of COPD and lung cancer. In addition, the team will also investigate the potential role of the immune system in mediating the development of lung cancer. Further, they are working to identify molecular biomarkers that associate with clinical outcome in patients with COPD and lung cancer. "By determining which biomarkers are involved, we can then target medicines to treat COPD and lung cancer on a molecular level," added Spira who is also director of the BU Cancer Center and a pulmonologist at Boston Medical Center.

Spira is the principal investigator of a national research study funded by the Department of Defense (W81XWH-11-2-0161) called Detecting Early Lung Cancer Among Military Personnel (DECAMP), a multicenter consortium involving four military hospitals and seven Veterans facilities.

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Gina DiGravio
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