Category: Corporate Collaborations

Corporate Collaborations

Life Science Workshop a ‘Tour de Force of Knowledge’…

Life Science Workshop a ‘Tour de Force of Knowledge’ for Bayer, Hopkins Scientists

 

This spring, Bayer brought its Life Science Workshop Series to the Johns Hopkins medical campus, creating an information exchange that could further stimulate collaboration between the two organizations.

The invite-only scientific workshop focused on how advances in radiation science and radiopharmaceuticals have created opportunities for more effective cancer treatments by combining radiation therapy and immuno-oncology. Experts from Johns Hopkins, Bayer, the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, Weill Cornell Medicine, University of Washington Medicine and Tulane University presented over the two-day event.

Bayer Life Science Workshop at Johns Hopkins

“What really struck me and what I think made this conference novel is that we started with the latest developments in immunology and ended with the latest developments in radiochemistry,” says Dr. George Sgouros, Johns Hopkins’ representative on the four-person organizing committee of the workshop’s scientific program. “That span of expertise I really hadn’t seen put together in that way. It was a tour de force of knowledge that spanned numerous fields that you typically wouldn’t find in any one meeting.”

During the workshop, the three dozen Bayer scientists, two dozen Johns Hopkins researchers and six guest speakers in attendance had deep scientific discussions about cutting-edge cancer treatments that combine radiation therapy with immune cells that target cancer cells and deliver the radiation therapy systemically in a tumor-targeted manner.

“Tumor cells have co-opted the machinery that prevent our immune system from attacking our own cells,” says Sgouros, the director of radiopharmaceutical dosimetry and a professor of radiology and radiological science at Johns Hopkins. “Interestingly, immune cells infiltrate tumors, but they don’t act because they get signals that tell them not to.”

Recent research has found that certain drugs can block the “cloaking signal” that tumor cells give off, triggering the immune cells to action. In addition, Sgouros says, the immune cells will develop a memory that allows them to recognize and fight tumor cells in the future. This novel treatment combined with radiation therapy that calls immune cells to action by killing a tumor cell and releasing parts of it outside its membrane has shown improved patient outcomes.

“This event was a great opportunity to get updated on the latest science in an interactive way,” Sgouros says.

Though Bayer’s current collaboration with Johns Hopkins focuses on ophthalmology, the German-based company chose to have one of its four annual workshops in Baltimore to provide a diverse, strong learning experience for its scientists and to explore further synergies for its established relationship with Johns Hopkins.

“We designed this event to have real scientific purpose and to serve as a platform for thought exchange,” says Marion Hitchcock, Bayer’s alliance manager to Johns Hopkins and a member of the event’s organizing committee. “We wanted to bring our scientists into a setting where they could discuss cutting-edge science, and in particular Targeted Alpha Therapy (Ra 223 and Targeted Thorium Conjugates).” This new platform, with currently the most advanced molecule in early clinical development, uses the combination of tumor-specific antibodies complexed with the alpha-emitting radionuclide thorium-227.

“Additionally, from Bayer’s side, we wanted to get more exposure to other indication areas at Johns Hopkins, particularly in oncology,” Hitchcock says.

According to Hitchcock, the event took about eight months to plan and intentionally took place just before the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting in Washington D.C. By having the workshop on the eve of AACR’s meeting, Bayer’s mostly Europe-based scientists could attend both events within one trip. For both Bayer and Johns Hopkins, the ability to meet and discuss science in-person together with other U.S.-based thought leaders in the field paid dividends.

“It’s meaningful when we can come together with industry collaborators and learn from each other. This event went beyond research and funding to truly focus on scientific exchange and learning opportunities,” says Mary Beth Thanhouser, a business development associate at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures who helped organize the event.

Though too early to determine how the relationship between Bayer and Johns Hopkins will progress in terms of research collaboration, additional scientific exchanges where both organizations share what they have learned appears certain.

“Many discussions created excitement for both sides,” Hitchcock says. “We definitely look forward to having similar events with Johns Hopkins in the future.”

Click here to learn more about collaborating with Johns Hopkins researchers.

 

Corporate Collaborations

First Ph.D. Candidates Selected for Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Scholars Program

First Ph.D. Candidates Selected for Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Scholars Program

 
Last year, Johns Hopkins University and MedImmune announced their collaboration on a unique new initiative, the Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Scholars Program. The program has just selected its first Ph.D. candidates for a curriculum that will prepare them for careers in the biopharma industry.

Inez Lam and Natalia Majewska, both first-year Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. students, will participate in the five-year program, the first-of-its-kind in the United States, to gain a better understanding of the process and challenges of drug discovery and development. Upon completion, they will receive a traditional Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University.

Natalia Majewska

“Having the combined resources of MedImmune and Johns Hopkins, a large network of people who can help guide me as well as access to more equipment will allow me to have a more wholesome Ph.D.,” says Majewska, who is studying chemical engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering.

Over the next few years, Majewska will focus her research on developing a better Chinese hamster ovary cell production platform. Chinese hamster ovary cells, often referred by the shorthand CHO cells, are used by research and commercial institutions for the production of therapeutic proteins. Because Majewska will work on a proprietary cell line, she anticipates that she will spend most of her time at MedImmune’s Gaithersburg, Maryland campus but will have weekly meetings with her Johns Hopkins advisor, Michael Betenbaugh.

“This is an opportunity for someone like me to delve into a problem that they’ve been thinking about but haven’t had the time or resources to do,” says Majewska, who aims to go into the biopharma industry once she completes the program and is considering doing so with a business focus.

Inez Lam

Lam, a biomedical engineering Ph.D. student in the Institute for Computational Medicine, will focus on building computational models to better understand how drugs work in the body. Lam is currently working with her Johns Hopkins advisor, Feilim Mac Gabhann, and MedImmune to determine where their scientific interests overlap in order to identify precisely the focus of her thesis. Still, Lam believes that this arrangement will further biological understanding, improve therapies and treatments and, ultimately, produce better patient outcomes.

“Industry is known for having large amounts of data, and they often don’t have the time or investment to make full use of it. In academia, we have more flexibility to look into that data,” Lam says. “I think this program will play to each of our strengths, making the best of all our resources.”

According to Peter Espenshade, associate dean for graduate biomedical education at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Scholars Program will facilitate more opportunities for students as they can focus on building a career in academia or in industry.

“People are starting to realize that they need to think earlier about what they want to do and what aligns with their skills and personalities,” Espenshade says.

With Ph.D. students shifting their career paths, Espenshade says the question becomes: Are we training them only for careers in academia? The Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Scholars program, like the Cambridge-AstraZeneca PhD Programme in Chemical Synthesis developed in 2015, enables students to gain exposure to a variety of career paths within industry.

Determining the success of the program will take years, Espenshade says, and will be based on the careers of the Ph.D. students, collaborative publications and the resulting research. For now, Lam and Majewska are pioneers and are relishing the opportunity they have.

“I think this program could be the foundation on which future programs are based,” Lam says. “Natalia and I have the honor of paving the way. How we go through the program will help set an example for other students and similar programs that will be modeled after this. I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
 

Interested in collaborating with Johns Hopkins researchers? Click here!

 

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