Boehringer finalizes team for crowdsourced COPD R&D initiative

Boehringer Ingelheim has finalized the crowdsourced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) R&D team it has spent the past 9 months putting together with BioMed X. The partners have tapped the University of Stuttgart's Renata Jurkowska to lead the initiative, which is an attempt by Boehringer to draw on expertise outside of its walls to better understand the epigenetics of COPD.

Jurkowska and her team will operate out labs run by BioMed X--an industry-academia collaboration initiative--at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Boehringer is contributing at least two years of funding to the team and will also provide mentorship to its members. The team will use the cash to characterize epigenetic regulators of COPD, a focus Boehringer decided upon after noticing an uptick in research suggesting factors beyond the underlying DNA sequence play a role in the collection of lung diseases known as COPD.

Boehringer Ingelheim SVP Michel Pairet

Boehringer hopes the team will generate new ideas about how to treat COPD, giving it an edge in the scrap with AstraZeneca ($AZN), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Novartis ($NVS) to treat an indication that is tipped to become the third biggest cause of death by 2030. "We firmly believe that crowdsourcing is an exciting and refreshing way to find unconventional solutions," Boehringer SVP Michel Pairet said in a statement. "This project is ideally suited to integrate breakthrough science in epigenetics research and emerging insights into the pathophysiology of COPD."

Jurkowska has already been involved with some of the epigenetics research on which Boehringer wants to build, although the recent focus of her work--the deregulation of the Dnmt3b enzyme--is most commonly associated with tumor formation. For at least the next two years, Jurkowska will switch her attention to COPD, applying the high-throughput assays and molecular biology tools that underpin epigenetic research to the discovery of biomarkers and therapeutic strategies for the lung disease.

The project will tap into the expertise and skills possessed by the crowdsourced team, which Jurkowska is in the process of swelling through the addition of a postgraduate research associate and a postdoctoral bioinformatics expert. 

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