Sanford Burnham Prebys expands collaboration with Lilly to investigate immunological therapies

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Our state-of-the-art screening technologies—including a CRISPR-based platform—will be leveraged to accelerate drug discovery.

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute today announced a three-year extension to its existing collaboration with Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly) to discover and develop immunological therapies. The goals of the agreement are to advance ongoing projects—including a Phase 1 clinical trial of an immune therapy that arose from the research collaboration—and to expand the previous scope to include omics-based target identification studies.

“Uniting our researchers’ deep scientific understanding of the immune system with Lilly’s expertise in protein engineering and clinical development is proving to be a powerful combination,” says Carl Ware, Ph.D., director of the Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys and co-chair of the collaboration. “Expanding our successful partnership brings us one step closer to finding innovative medicines that could help millions of people who are affected by immune disorders that lack effective treatments.” 

The research team will use a number of powerful omics technologies to discover novel drug targets to treat autoimmune disorders, including CRISPR-based technologies that can be used to identify protein functions by silencing every gene in the genome.

“CRISPR-based libraries allow for state-of-the-art screens that provide a 40,000-foot view of all the genes that may control a disease state—in this case, immune system dysfunction,” says Sumit Chanda, Ph.D., director of Sanford Burnham Prebys’ Immunity and Pathogenesis Program. Chanda and Ware lead the innovative target identification projects. “Our scientists have more than two decades of experience using these genome-level technologies to uncover new biology and translate discoveries into therapeutic innovation. By combining our expertise with Lilly’s formidable capabilities in drug discovery, we are uniquely positioned to discover new, effective medicines for autoimmune diseases.” 

Immunology is a major area of focus for Sanford Burnham Prebys and Lilly. More than 80 diseases, including lupus, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, result from dysfunction of the immune system. Sanford Burnham Prebys scientists are studying the complexities of the immune system during inflammation, autoimmune and infectious diseases with the goal of uncovering new approaches to treating immunological disorders and other serious diseases. Lilly is a global leader in the research and development of immunology treatments that address unmet medical needs with first-in-class and best-in-disease medicines.

“Sanford Burnham Prebys’ track record of using cutting-edge genome silencing technologies to identify drug targets for challenging health conditions was extremely compelling,” says Ajay Nirula, M.D., Ph.D., vice president of Immunology at Lilly and co-chair of the collaboration. “Extending and broadening our collaboration with Sanford Burnham Prebys scientists, which has already yielded a promising new candidate to treat autoimmune disorders, allows us to continue leveraging our complementary areas of expertise to find new treatments for people with immunological conditions.”

An immune therapy developed through the existing Sanford Burnham Prebys and Lilly collaboration entered aPhase 1 clinical trial in November 2018. The biologic drug, called LY3361237, inhibits inflammation by turning on the immune checkpoint known as B and T lymphocyte attenuator (BTLA). The study evaluates the safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics of LY3361237 in healthy subjects before treating people with immune disorders. Further information about the trial can be found on using the Identifier NCT03695198.

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