STAR ALLIANCE PARTNERS
The CMTA works with the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and research service industries, along with non-profit research organizations and the National Institutes of Health. These relationships are a critical part of its STAR initiative to rapidly deliver therapies to CMT patients.
The CMTA’s key alliance partners include:
Genzyme (a Sanofi Company)
In September 2014, the CMTA entered an alliance with Genzyme, a Sanofi company, to test their large libraries of molecules to identify those that dampen the known disease defect in CMT1A. A screening test capable of the automation required for this work was developed in a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin and the NIH. Following testing of close to 2 million molecules at Sanofi, a number of chemical classes have been identified that suppress the overexpression of PMP22, a key protein implicated in the causation of CMT1A. Candidates from these chemicals are now being tested in animal models of the disease in order to confirm functional improvements indicating recovery from disease symptoms. In addition, the alliance has now expanded to the evaluation of additional molecules that have emerged from other Sanofi Programs and represent an advanced state of drug design. Several of these drug prototypes are now being tested in animal disease models of CMT1A for their ability to influence the disease course. The overall aim of the joint CMTA-Genzyme team is to identify drug candidates that can advance to testing in patients.
In March of 2014, the CMTA entered an alliance with Ionis Pharmaceuticals (Ionis), a leading company in the development of Anti-Sense-Oligonucleotide (ASO) therapies. ASOs are short synthetic pieces of chemically modified nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) designed to bind to the RNA that codes for a protein. Once the ASO binds to the RNA it causes the destruction of the RNA by cellular enzymes, effectively leading to a decrease in the amount of targeted protein that is expressed. Ionis had previously demonstrated the ability to deliver an ASO to peripheral nerves and wanted to work with the CMTA to design a therapy that would decrease PMP22 protein levels in CMT1A patients. Specific ASOs were designed which proved effective in altering PMP22 RNA levels in two different rodent models of CMT1A. Importantly, this treatment also led to functional improvements in the animals. This groundbreaking work is now reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The alliance team is now focused on the further design and testing of drug candidates that will be suitable for testing in patients.
New York Stem Cell Foundation
In December 2014, the CMTA announced a collaboration with the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Research Institute to make human stem cell lines that represent the genetic disease defect for a collection of CMT disorders. These cell lines were derived from patient materials curated in a biobank at the University of Iowa and are now distributed by the NYSCF. The immediate use of these cell lines is to develop methods that allow these cells to mimic the Type 1 (Schwann Cell) or Type 2 (motor nerve) defects seen in CMT patients. The cell lines are now being incorporated in the therapy evaluation testing of alliance partners, which allows the CMT to conduct rapid drug testing in a patient-centric disease model at a very early stage. To date, 17 of these patient-derived stem cell lines have been successfully completed, representing six different CMT disorders. The NYSCF is making these available to researchers through its website and on-line ordering system as a means of broadly stimulating research on CMT using materials that directly represent cellular models of the disease condition.
The National Institutes of Health (U.S.A.)
The National Institutes of Health (U.S.A.) is this nation’s premier medical research agency—supporting scientific studies that turn discovery into health solutions. The CMTA has had a close working relationship at the NIH with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and the NIH Office of Technology Transfer. This has led to sponsorship of several joint projects that aim to support CMTA alliance efforts.
In addition, the NINDS provides funding and guidance to the Inherited Neuropathies Consortium, with support also provided by the CMTA. This consortium has assembled a large patient registry of CMT patients, is actively performing natural history studies of CMT diseases, and is evaluating measurement tools that may be useful in monitoring disease progression. The NINDS also provides research support to many of the STAR investigator laboratories.
Service PartnersA key element required for the formation of successful alliances is the ability to make available a “toolbox” of cellular and animal models for the evaluation of drug candidates along with the know-how required to expertly use these models. The CMTA has purposefully set out to make or acquire the tools needed for this work and has developed benchmarks for how to use them. This preclinical testing capability has been assembled via close collaboration with an expert network of service providers. Currently, with the aim of testing therapies at different stages of development, the preclinical toolbox is being applied to a number of alliance relationships that address different CMT disorders. Members of this STAR service network are as follows:
PsychoGenics is a leader in specialty preclinical contract research and drug discovery services, with a focus on neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. In 2013, the CMTA completed a master services agreement with PsychoGenics to provide biomarker and behavioral testing support to the STAR network. The company works closely with the CMTA to design and then execute preclinical drug testing studies in CMT animal models, as well as to characterize animal models destined for use in CMTA research efforts.
HumanFirst Therapeutics LLC
HumanFirst Therapeutics (HFT) is a Research Consulting & Management Company that works with the CMTA to develop research strategies that lead to therapy development alliances. HFT has worked as a trusted partner with the CMTA since 2012 to provide the operational expertise and research direction needed to advance these alliance efforts to patients.
Horizon Discovery is a translational genomics company that develops and supplies patient-relevant drug discovery and diagnostic research tools, including contract research services. Horizon Discovery has worked closely with STAR investigators to design and create several new rodent models of CMT which are now entering into research and therapeutics discovery projects sponsored by the CMTA.
This global provider of contract animal research services is working with the CMTA to breed, cryopreserve and distribute rodent models of CMT that are used in the STAR alliance network.
The Jackson Laboratory
The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit organization focused on mammalian genetics research and is currently working with the CMTA to breed and distribute specialized mouse models of CMT in support of its research project efforts.
Renovo Neural Inc. is a specialized preclinical research organization offering expert histology and electron microscopy services to the CMTA for use in both the characterization of new animal models of CMT and the evaluation of new therapeutics in support of its pharmaceutical alliances.
Providing real time PCR services for client sample analysis, ARQ Genetics is supporting CMTA efforts to analyze gene expression in animal disease models of CMT and quantitatively measure changes in molecular markers as predictors of response to potential therapeutics.