Bayer signs cardiovascular genomics alliance with Harvard, MIT

Germany's Bayer already partners with MIT and Harvard on oncology research, and now the partnership is being upgraded to include cardiovascular genomics and drug discovery. MIT and Harvard's Broad Institute is devoted to biomolecular research and collaborates with more than 100 public and private institutions across the globe, including Bayer.

The expansion of the alliance into cardiovascular genomics will be about the search for genetic biomarkers of patient risk or suitability to particular drugs that treat cardiovascular conditions like heart disease.

"We are excited to broaden our collaboration with the Broad Institute to the area of cardiovascular genomics to discover genes and mutational changes underlying cardiovascular disorders in order to develop new therapies and diagnostic options for these diseases," said Bayer's head of global drug discovery, Andreas Busch, in a statement. "We have been collaborating over the last two years and have developed a very constructive partnership during this time."

The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but it will be governed by joint steering and research committees focused on genetic discovery, target validation and drug discovery activities.

Focused on pharmaceuticals, animal health and consumer goods, Bayer is relatively light in the diagnostics arena. It makes the Contour line of blood glucose monitors, though in February it was rumored to be on the verge of selling the diabetes care business to Panasonic Healthcare and buyout firm KKR for as much as €2 billion ($2.1 billion). Its molecular diagnostics are image contrast agents used in MRI and CT scan imaging.

But it is seeking to enter a cardiovascular biomarker arena that has been busy of late.

At the American College of Cardiology annual meeting, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Medical Center presented research finding that the level of the ST2 protein is a good predictor of adverse events and death in heart failure patients. Measures of the level of the peptide BNP and the protein complex troponin are the more commonly used biomarkers.

Bayer, MIT and Harvard hope to find additional, genetic biomarkers of predisposition to cardiovascular disease as opposed to the protein-based ones that are more commonly used. And the research could form the basis of a companion diagnostic approach to patient selection for a future drug.

That is an approach Bayer has taken before, as demonstrated by its 2012 collaboration with Roche's ($RHHBY) Ventana Medical Systems to develop such a test to screen patients for Bayer's novel antibody-drug conjugate for cancer.

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