Bristol Myers, Eisai and Lundbeck ally to bring down blood-brain barrier

Bristol Myers Squibb
A new collaboration builds on work at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to gather data from human blood-brain barrier samples. (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Bristol Myers Squibb, Eisai and Lundbeck have formed a precompetitive collaboration with Harvard University to discover better ways to get drugs across the blood-brain barrier.

The blood-brain barrier is holding back all developers of treatments for brain diseases by stopping drug candidates from getting to their targets in the concentrations needed to have therapeutic effects. Working with Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the three biopharma companies want to overcome that shared obstacle to the treatment of brain diseases.

Bristol Myers, Eisai and Lundbeck are equally supporting research into the identification of shuttle target proteins that are abundant around the blood-brain barrier but rare or absent in other parts of the body. After identifying a suitable protein, researchers will design antibodies that bind to the target to facilitate the delivery of therapeutics across the barrier and into the brain. The three pharma companies will use the findings to inform their internal R&D activities.  

The initiative grew out of talks between the Wyss Institute’s James Gorman, M.D., Ph.D., and Richard Hargreaves, Ph.D., senior vice president and head, Neuroscience Thematic Research Center at Bristol Myers. Hargreaves set out the need for the collaborative effort.

“It is critically important to find better strategies to transport drugs into the brain,” Hargreaves said in a statement. “However, the complexity of this problem makes it challenging for individual research institutions or companies to solve on their own. We strongly believe in this type of collaboration to develop tools for drug development and delivery. This collaboration offers a compelling opportunity to discover new approaches for drug delivery to the brain.”

The collaboration builds on work at Wyss to gather data from human blood-brain barrier samples that could enable the discovery of targets. Wyss will now use comparative proteomic and transcriptomic approaches along with a bioinformatic brain delivery target discovery platform to find the most promising proteins. 

The project, which received a $750,000 grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, will now also benefit from the input of scientists at several companies. FairJourney Biologics and Lundbeck are supporting the antibody side of the project, while Cell Signaling Technologies is involved in the study of RNA and protein expression to identify shuttle target proteins.