Category: Corporate Collaborations

Corporate Collaborations

Mitsubishi Tanabe, Hopkins Scientists Shedding Light on Psychotic Disorders

Mitsubishi Tanabe, Hopkins Scientists Shedding Light on Psychotic Disorders


Since 2012, Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation and Johns Hopkins have collaborated to identify early-stage biomarkers for psychotic disorders in young adults. The results of this five-year collaboration may help doctors more accurately diagnose and identify the best course of treatment for those suffering from psychosis, such as those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other psychotic disorders.

The relationship between Mitsubishi and Johns Hopkins stems from the unique challenges inherent to this area of drug development. Effective treatments have proven elusive because psychotic disorders are biologically heterogeneous, meaning several factors can be attributed to their development.

“The gap between reliability and validity in diagnosis has long confused pharmaceutical companies,” says Dr. Akira Sawa, director of the Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center and professor of psychiatry, mental health, neuroscience and biomedical engineering in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They try to make the drug for schizophrenia, but the nosological concept of schizophrenia is not supported just by biology.”

Sawa has led a research coalition of several departments from across the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and will soon present to Mitsubishi Tanabe the five most promising molecular candidates for their drug screening targets. While the results could mean better care for those suffering psychotic disorders, a particularly unique component to this collaboration could facilitate future industry-academic relationships.

Dr. Akira Sawa
In addition to working with Johns Hopkins colleagues as part of his departmental coalitions that include scientists and clinicians from psychiatry, neurology, radiology, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, dermatology, otorhinolaryngology and pediatrics, Sawa has trained two data scientists and four wet bench scientists from Mitsubishi Tanabe as postdoctoral fellows.

The six scientists have come on a rolling basis with a maximum of three at any given time. Sawa says their experience and training resembles that of other Johns Hopkins postdoctoral fellows.

“The scientists from Mitsubishi Tanabe have received a lot of exposure by coming to Johns Hopkins because we provide them the opportunity to have a multi-departmental experience,” Sawa says.

Data scientist Nori Ogaru was the last Mitsubishi Tanabe scientist working with Johns Hopkins as part of this collaboration, and he recently returned home to Yokohama, Japan. For nearly two years, Ogaru collected and analyzed imaging, molecular, neuropsychology and smell test data sets, giving him an opportunity he had never had while working at Mitsubishi Tanabe.

“Until coming to Johns Hopkins, I had never touched human clinical data,” Ogaru says. “I hope that this will lead to the development of a new drug. Mitsubishi Tanabe is excited about the results.”

Working closely together enables academia to have a greater understanding of the focus and style of industry and vice versa, says Yukiko Lema, a clinical research program manager in the Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center.

“Sometimes there is a gap between entities,” Lema says, noting that academia focuses more on patient care and publishing while industry focuses on its business portfolio. “It’s the same research, but the focus is different. This collaboration has showed us what industry partners look for.”

At the same time, the opportunity to work with human clinical data has given Ogaru a better perspective on how his work can impact human lives.

“I worked in early-stage drug discovery, far from the side of medical care,” Ogaru says. “I had never felt the urgent need of the drug before. Now, I’m more encouraged. I would like to develop a new drug and give back to the patient. That will be my contribution to medical care.”

View JHTV’s ongoing industry collaborations here!


Corporate Collaborations

Bluefield Innovations Pursues Broadly Applicable Cancer Target

Bluefield Innovations Pursues Broadly Applicable Cancer Target


Bluefield Innovations, a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins University and Deerfield Management to catalyze early stage therapeutic development, announced today the acceptance and funding of its first project. The target, the enzyme RNA polymerase I (Pol I), is implicated in many forms of cancer.

Originating in the lab of Marikki Laiho, MD, Ph.D., the Willard and Lillian Hackerman Professor of Radiation Oncology and director of the Division of Molecular Radiation Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the discovery illustrates how cancer cells disproportionately rely on the Pol I cellular pathway when compared to normal cells. Laiho’s research indicates that interfering with this pathway kills cancer cells while causing little harm to normal cells. The acceptance of this project comes just two months after the launch of Bluefield Innovations.

“We are excited to accept Dr. Laiho’s project into Bluefield Innovations and show our commitment to the goal of advancing promising research projects,” says James Flynn, managing partner at Deerfield Management.

Dr. Marikki Laiho
Bluefield will provide scientific, financial and operational support to Laiho’s research, enabling her team to identify the clinical lead molecule and to move that candidate toward human clinical trials. Ultimately, this support could lead to the development of a first-in-class small molecule drug.

“I truly appreciate the opportunity to align with a collaborator that shares the same mindset and goals surrounding early stage research targets,” Laiho says. “Bluefield understands that new targets and first-in-class molecules require a higher level of due diligence and with that, they provide the expertise to support the extensive ground work required for the IND process.”

A joint steering committee consisting of representatives from Johns Hopkins and Deerfield selected Laiho’s research to receive the first round of support from Bluefield. The initial five-year term of Bluefield Innovations will provide support and funding to approximately a dozen Johns Hopkins faculty and researchers. A call for applications will take place in the first quarter of 2018.

“Bluefield Innovations provides a valuable avenue for Johns Hopkins researchers to unleash the potential of their promising work,” says William Nelson, MD, Ph.D., professor of oncology and director of the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. “Dr. Laiho’s research may prove to be a transformational cancer treatment. We’re excited that Bluefield has provided her an opportunity to accelerate its development and commercialization.”

Click here for the announcement of Bluefield Innovations!

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