Boehringer Ingelheim boosts social networking site for 'orphan' lung disease

Germany-based drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim has expanded its reach in the world of digital healthcare via a new collaboration with the patient-focused social networking outfit PatientsLikeMe. The alliance is expected to "enhance" PatientsLikeMe's online community for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), an orphan lung disease without a known cause or cure.

PatientsLikeMe provides online communities in which patients can share experiences about treatments for their diseases and, in some cases, tap online tools to measure their health. With support from Boehringer, the company's IPF community can enable patients to tailor their use of the site with tools to monitor their condition and exchange thoughts with others suffering from the disease.

Given that the specific cause of IPF is unknown, biopharma researchers have advanced their understanding of the disease biology and developed a slate of new drugs against the lung ailment. The basics involve scarring of lung tissue over time that leads to stiffening of the lungs and loss of function. Boehringer, for example, said the company wrapped up enrollment for a pair of Phase III trials to study its compound nintedanib or BIBF 1120 for IPF sufferers.

Boehringer and PatientsLikeMe announced the collaboration on Rare Disease Day, Feb. 28. The drugmaker joins a growing list of others, including Novartis ($NVS) and Merck ($MRK), that have joined forces with the social-networking site.

"Rare diseases are sometimes called 'orphan diseases' because they affect so few people, and don't attract significant research attention or funding," Ben Heywood, PatientsLikeMe co-founder and president, said in a statement. "Our website is where patients count. They're contributing their real-world experience to help others living with IPF and advance research."

Biogen Idec ($BIIB), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and InterMune ($ITMN) are among other biopharma groups at various stages of developing IPF treatments. In the absence of pharma solutions, some IPF patients have received lung transplants to survive the disease.

- here's the release