Biogen taps ice bucket cash to build ALS database

Biogen ($BIIB) is working with Columbia University Medical Center to build a database of genes and clinical traits from 1,500 people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The project, which is partly funded by cash raised in the Ice Bucket Challenge, is intended to help Biogen understand how genes contribute to different forms of ALS.

The ALS Association has allocated $3.5 million of its $115 million ice bucket haul to the project, with Biogen chipping in the rest as part of its $30 million collaboration with Columbia. Biogen has rounded up some big-name collaborators to help with the initiative. Massachusetts General Hospital has signed up to use its NeuroBank system for the collection and curation of clinical data, while Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles has committed to developing cell lines. Collectively, the groups are trying to create tools that will strip some of the mystery from ALS, booth in terms of its causes and care.

"The expectation is we'll be able to find genes involved in phenotypes other than the presence or absence of the diseases, affecting things like how fast the onset was, or how quickly it progresses," Biogen SVP Tim Harris told Bloomberg. ALS is thought to be an umbrella term for multiple diseases but researchers are still unraveling the thicket of causes and effects. The database should help in this regard. Biogen is also looking to the database to support the design of clinical trials of targeted therapies.

Research into such targeted drugs will be supported by blood cells collected from ALS patients. Cedars-Sinai will store the blood cells at the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC) Core, after which scientists will be able to use them to create cell lines for further research. "The ability to create patient iPS cells from such a genetically well-annotated ALS blood repository will allow us to model causes of motor neuron degeneration in ALS," Cedars-Sinai's Dhruv Sareen said in a statement.

- read the release
- here's Bloomberg's article