Broad and Novartis announce collaboration to uncover genetic basis for type 2 diabetes

David Altshuler, M.D., Ph. D.
David Altshuler, M.D., Ph. D.Photo courtesy of L. Barry Hetherington

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, the research division of Novartis, announced today a joint project to decipher the genetic causes of type 2 diabetes and make their findings freely available to scientists worldwide.

Called the Broad-Novartis Diabetes Initiative, this new model for public-private collaboration will place all findings about type 2 diabetes directly online. The initiative includes and builds upon the work of and long-term collaboration with researchers at Lund University in Sweden, who have created one of the world's largest and most-detailed studies of diabetes and its genetic causes.

The collaboration reflects the mission of Broad Institute to pull together a community of researchers from the Cambridge area and beyond to tackle complex problems that are difficult to solve in the traditional laboratory setting and require multi-disciplinary teams, said Broad founding director Eric Lander, Ph.D.

"It is wonderful that Novartis is sharing its vision and expertise in how diabetes alters the body, diabetes therapy and drug discovery, and, as a private company, is willing to work in the public domain," Lander said.

Novartis opened its new global research headquarters in Cambridge in part to forge these kind of world-class alliances, according to Mark Fishman, M.D., President of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. "This initiative is a breakthrough in collaborative style, using complementary talents from different institutions to advance knowledge for all to the advantage of patients worldwide," he said. "In this new paradigm of public-private cooperation all data obtained will be made rapidly available to biomedical researchers globally."

Type 2 diabetes is one of the world's most significant and growing public health threats. It affects more than 170 million people worldwide. That number is expected to reach 300 million by 2025.

There is a clear underlying genetic propensity to developing type 2 diabetes. The initiative establishes a research partnership of physicians, geneticists, computational scientists, pharmaceutical researchers, and others to identify inherited risk factors for developing the disease and its complications, with the goal of improving the understanding of how genetics contribute to type 2 diabetes and its complications.

In addition, this knowledge has the potential to inform clinical decisions about the disease and perhaps contribute to the development and selection of new medicines tailored to patients.

Broad-Novartis Initiative researchers will study thousands of DNA samples, collected by Leif Groop, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at Lund University. Groop, professor of endocrinology at Lund, leads a team that has delineated the phenotypic and genotypic heterogeneity of diabetes and maintains one of the world's largest and most detailed databases of information on diabetic patients. The Lund team will partner in the design and analysis of the research program with Broad and Novartis Institutes scientists to find the underlying genetic causes of the disease.

"This collaboration creates a terrific team to tackle type 2 diabetes, which is growing to become one of the most pressing public health problems in the industrialized world," said principal investigator David Altshuler, M.D., Ph.D.

"Novartis is recognized for their leading role in the discovery and development of highly innovative drugs to treat type 2 diabetes and for their commitment to advance the standards of care for this disease. This collaboration could not have occurred without the joint efforts of Novartis or Leif Groop and colleagues," said Altshuler, associate professor of genetics and medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and director of Broad's Program in Medical and Population Genetics.

"The Broad team brings an unparalleled know-how in genetic analysis and shares our vision to elucidate the genetic basis for type 2 diabetes, its progressive nature, and its link to development of vascular complications," said principal investigator Tom Hughes, Ph.D., global head of diabetes and metabolism research at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. "We are extremely pleased to be a part of this collaborative effort with our colleagues at the Broad Institute."

Co-principal investigators at Broad include associate members Joel Hirschhorn, M.D., Ph.D., and Mark Daly, Ph.D. Hirschhorn is an assistant professor of genetics and pediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. His work involves uncovering the inherited factors that lead to variations in susceptibility to common diseases, in order to understand the root causes of these illnesses. Daly is a Whitehead/Pfizer Computational Biology Fellow at Whitehead Institute. His research focuses on statistical genetics, particularly understanding patterns of variation in the human genome and translating that knowledge into more effective statistical methods for finding variation responsible for disease.

This release contains certain forward-looking statements which can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as "will ", "with the goal of", "has the potential", "perhaps contribute to", "commitment to advance", "committed to discovering", "is well-positioned to ensure Novartis maintains", or similar expressions, or by express or implied discussions regarding the potential development and commercialization of new products or regarding potential future sales from any such products. Such statements reflect the current views of Novartis with respect to future events and are subject to certain risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Many factors could cause the actual results to be materially different from any future results, performances or achievements that may be expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. There can be no guarantee that the aforementioned collaboration will lead to the development or commercialization of any new products in any market, or that any such products will reach any particular sales levels. Any such commercialization or sales can be affected by, among other things, uncertainties relating to product development and clinical trials, regulatory actions or delays or government regulation generally, the ability to obtain or maintain patent or other proprietary intellectual property protection, competition in general, and government, industry and general public pricing pressures, as well as factors discussed in Novartis AG's current Form 20-F on file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from those described herein as anticipated, believed, estimated or expected. Novartis are providing this information as of this date and do not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained in this document as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

About Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research

Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research is Novartis' global research organization and is committed to discovering innovative medicines that cure disease and improve human health. By conducting more relevant and predictable drug discovery that can yield new and better medicines for patients, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research is redefining drug discovery in the post-genomic era. Over the past four years, Novartis Pharmaceuticals has had the greatest number of new molecular entities approved by the U.S. FDA. With its broad focus on diseases for which there is need for better medical therapies and with 3,000 talented, dedicated research scientists worldwide, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research is well-positioned to ensure Novartis maintains its strong pipeline and highly successful track record in new drug discovery. Novartis Institutes includes sites in Cambridge, Massachusetts (headquarters); Basel, Switzerland; Horsham, UK; London, UK; East Hanover, NJ; Vienna, Austria; and Tsukuba, Japan.

About Novartis

Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS) is a world leader in pharmaceuticals and consumer health. In 2003, the Group's businesses achieved sales of USD 24.9 billion and a net income of USD 5.0 billion. The Group invested approximately USD 3.8 billion in R&D. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis Group companies employ about 80,000 people and operate in over 140 countries around the world. For further information please consult


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