The Johns Hopkins University and Horizon Therapeutics, a global biotechnology company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of medicines for rare diseases, have entered a multiyear collaboration that both sides hope will lead to scientific discoveries as well as the creation of an internship and employment pipeline.
The research collaboration will focus on identifying new disease targets and advancing translational research efforts in autoimmunity and inflammation. One disease of particular interest to Horizon is myositis, a rare autoimmune disease that can result in muscle wasting, significant pain and highly reduced quality of life.
“This academic-industry collaboration between Horizon and the multidisciplinary team of Johns Hopkins investigators presents a unique opportunity to accelerate important research in myositis, a disease that currently has limited approved therapeutic options for patients,” states Lisa Christopher-Stine, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Johns Hopkins Myositis Center and a co-investigator.
A goal of the collaboration is to investigate common mechanisms that may reveal two expressions of the same underlying disease: dermatomyositis, affecting the skin layers, and inclusion-body myositis, affecting the skeletal musculature.
“The Johns Hopkins relationship with Horizon provides an exceptional opportunity to work in a shared area of research interest with a company that cares about rare autoimmune diseases,” adds Ed Pearce, Ph.D., Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and co-lead in the collaboration.
“Working collaboratively, Johns Hopkins and Horizon researchers will probe the biology of these diseases with the goal of identifying new, druggable targets,” says Andrew Kunkler-Peck, Ph.D., associate director of business development with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV), who has been working on the agreement with Horizon on behalf of JHTV’s Corporate Partnerships team. “As with most corporate collaborations, the goal is always to align the strength of Johns Hopkins researchers with the areas of interest of our collaborators,” he says.
Sonye Karen Danoff, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Johns Hopkins Interstitial Lung Disease/Pulmonary Fibrosis Program, also will work with Horizon on additional research into diseases that cause scarring in the lungs, according to Kunkler-Peck. The goal of this project is to understand the mechanistic underpinning of connective tissue disorders by examining the immune cell phenotype and signature in the lung and circulatory system. Danoff and her team will aim to shift accepted terminology on interstitial lung disease to more accurately reflect the disorder’s presentation and progression.
Thyroid eye disease and cardiometabolic diseases — such as stroke and diabetes — are also areas for potential collaboration, Kunkler-Peck says.
Beyond research opportunities, Kunkler-Peck said the two sides hope the collaboration also will lead to Horizon hiring doctoral and postdoctoral students from Johns Hopkins, sponsoring internships with graduate programs and mentoring student startups at FastForward U, JHTV’s entrepreneurship hub for students.
Horizon, which has its U.S. headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois, is increasing its presence in Maryland and will be the first tenant at the Alexandria Center at Traville Gateway campus in Rockville, Maryland. When completed, the facility will support job growth and drive the company’s continued efforts to develop new medicines.
“As Horizon deepens our footprint in the Maryland area, we believe this collaboration will bolster the world-class scientific thinking and technical capabilities that are found in the Maryland life sciences ecosystem,” says Robert Stoffel, Ph.D., vice president of research at Horizon. “Working hand in hand with experts at The Johns Hopkins University will allow our teams to better understand the biology of diseases we are investigating and identify new preclinical targets that could lead to novel therapeutics.”