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Biogen Idec bankrolls top academics' exploration of Lou Gehrig's disease

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With a new research consortium, Biogen Idec ($BIIB) has expanded its interest in advancing new treatments for a mysterious neurodegenerative disease. Today the company announced the initiative focused on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, with plans to funnel more than $10 million over three years into projects from neuroscience experts at universities such as Columbia, Harvard, Rockefeller and Yale.

Biogen CEO George Scangos has clearly targeted ALS as a growth platform, building on the Weston, MA-based biotech giant's base in neurology with multiple sclerosis therapies such as Avonex and Tysabri. In fact, the first big deal announced under Scangos' term as CEO in August 2010 was a $345 million pact with Knopp Neurosciences to join forces on dexpramipexole, which is now in late-stage development for treating ALS.

"ALS research is a primary area of focus for Biogen Idec, but has proven to be a very difficult disease to understand and treat," Biogen's chief scientist, Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, said in a statement.

Artavanis-Tsakonas is helming the new ALS consortium and tackling Biogen's part in the research at his own Harvard lab. The idea behind the effort, according to Biogen, is to gain deeper knowledge of how the disease works and shed light on targets and ways to treat it. And breaking from traditional secretive ways academics conduct research prior to big publications, members of the consortium plan to meet regularly and share their findings.

Biogen and other major biopharma players have made a spate of extramural moves within academia and with other stakeholders to tackle tough diseases such as ALS, which has befuddled researchers and has no definite cause. In an effort to better understand the rare illness--which affects about two in 100,000 people and robs victims of motor function and eventually their lives--Biogen struck an agreement this year with Duke University and Hudson Alpha Institute to sequence the genomes of 1,000 patients with the disorder. That effort will be wrapped into the new consortium.

- check out Biogen's release
- see the Boston Globe's update

Special Reports: 20 Major Pharma-Academic Alliances in 2012 | Biogen Idec - The Biggest R&D Spenders in Biotech

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