COPD and gestational diabetes research are the subject of two new projects aimed at intercepting diseases prior to onset and identifying preventive treatments
Can new insights into the human genome make it possible to diagnose disease much earlier—even before symptoms can be observed? Multiple research programs are targeting this possibility. One example is being conducted by Johnson & Johnson (J&J). The American multinational medical-device company wants to leverage recent developments in genetics, data analysis, and its worldwide partnerships, in an attempt to answer two profound questions:
• Can the earliest signals of disease be identified; and
• What treatments will assist researchers who are trying to prevent diseases?
To pursue these two goals, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) is expanding its existing research project into disease prediction and prevention, which currently involves 24 global partners, according to an Associated Press March story.
Diabetes and COPD Focus of New J&J Research
Janssen Research and Development (Janssen), a research arm of J&J, is teaming up with Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) on the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) research. Janssen is also teaming up with the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore to find biomarkers in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM), according to a Janssen announcement.
These projects are among two dozen Janssen collaborations with drug and diagnostic companies, universities, and governments.
Predicting and Preventing Disease Before It Starts
Equally relevant to clinical laboratory professionals is Janssen’s exploration of companion diagnostics: medical laboratory tests that use biomarkers to identify whether a patient is a candidate for a specific therapy.
“We’ve really been trying to introduce a new paradigm,” Ben Wiegand, PhD, told the Associated Press. “We’re moving from disease care to healthcare.” Wiegand is Global Head of the Disease Interception Accelerator (DIA) of Janssen Research and Development, a Janssen Pharmaceutical company. The DIA is a research unit focused on the prediction and pre-emption of diseases.
Pinpointing COPD Risk
The new Janssen DIA-BUSM collaboration aims at using radiology and molecular biomarkers to pinpoint individuals who are in the early stages of COPD. Then, target therapy at disrupting the process of the disease that leads to destruction of the small airways in the lungs, according to the Janssen statement.
The DIA’s project with BUSM builds on the university’s existing research on military members and veterans who are at risk of developing lung cancer.
In a statement, BUSM said it had entered into a $10.1 million agreement with Janssen Research & Development and that, “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.”
The Associated Press reported that $8 million is allocated to test 1,000 civilian workers and identify cell changes in people who eventually develop COPD. Another $2.1 million is reportedly aimed at supporting efforts to study how the immune system fails early on in people who develop lung cancer.
“We hope to advance our ability to identity and understand molecular biomarkers that will aid in the discovery and development of more targeted therapies in the future for these devastating lung diseases,” said Avrum Spira, MD, MSc, BUSM’s Professor of Medicine, Pathology, and Laboratory Medicine, in an RT Magazine story.
The 4-year long partnership aims to:
• Define baseline and longitudinal disease profiles in COPD at transcriptomic level;
• Integrate clinical data parameters to apply targeted therapeutic COPD intervention; and
• Characterize transcriptomic alterations associated with early lung cancer.
Preventing Gestational Diabetes Mellitus
Additionally, a new Janssen DIA partnership with A*STAR reaches toward a goal of finding new biomarkers for women at risk for GDM and preventive treatment.
GDM is diagnosed when carbohydrate intolerance is developed or recognized during pregnancy for the first time. Consequences for mother and child may include increased risks of birth trauma, respiratory distress, and cesarean section, noted DIA. It also pointed out that 30% to 50% of women who have GDM develop type 2 diabetes and have children at increased risk of obesity.
Can They Do It?
The Janssen DIA/BUSM/A*STAR teams are focusing on intercepting diseases from COPD and GDM to cancer. Their work may possibly shift a paradigm from diagnosis and treatment of disease to prediction and pre-emption. Pathologists and laboratory leaders will have to wait and see how the studies progress and what new disease interception solutions may emerge.
If studies are successful, they could start to change the medical laboratory’s role in supporting physicians with diagnostic tests that could detect disease earlier and more precisely. Ultimately, such diagnostic tests, along with new medicines, medical devices, and technologies, may make it possible to help people before they show symptoms or become sick.
—Donna Marie Pocius