New research alliance with Novo Nordisk to identify therapeutic targets for type 2 diabetes and cardiometabolic diseases

The collaboration aims to identify disease-modifying interventions, with the goal of improving standards of care for people living with type 2 diabetes and cardiac fibrosis

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The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard today announced a new research alliance with Novo Nordisk aimed at addressing critical unmet clinical needs in diabetes and cardiometabolic diseases. The collaboration will focus on advancing three programs over the next three years. Two programs aim to identify drug targets for clinically important subtypes of type 2 diabetes, which affects more than 37 million people in the United States alone, and one program aims to unravel the genetic roots of cardiac fibrosis, or scarring of the heart, which occurs in many cardiovascular diseases that can lead to heart dysfunction and failure.

“Diabetes and cardiac fibrosis are two conditions in dire need of new therapies,” said Todd Golub, director of the Broad Institute. “These kinds of cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional collaborations that span both academia and industry are key to making the breakthroughs that patients all over the world need.”

“The conditions we’re exploring impact millions of people worldwide,” said Uli Stilz, head of Novo Nordisk’s Bio Innovation Hub in Boston. “Together, we’re able to leverage the full breadth of scientific expertise between our two organizations. This collaboration has the potential not only to accelerate our understanding of the diseases, but also potentially enable scientific advancements in disease-modifying interventions — a true game changer in addressing cardiometabolic diseases.”

Identifying therapeutic targets for diabetes subtypes

Most current diabetes treatments target high blood sugar, in part because it has been challenging to fully understand the disease’s underlying heterogeneity, as there are many root causes for developing type 2 diabetes. The two diabetes programs will aim to identify therapeutic targets for both non-weight mediated insulin resistance and loss of beta cell function. For both patient populations, there are no safe and effective therapies for reversing disease.

The aim is that this collaboration will lead to treatments that address the cause and not just symptoms of disease. The alliance will utilize state-of-the-art genetics and genomics methods to interrogate subtypes of diabetes and, with Broad’s Center for the Development of Therapeutics, probe the relationships between genes and pathways that could be therapeutic targets using large-scale cell screens. 

“This is potentially transformative,” said Jose Florez, who will co-direct the new initiative. Florez is an institute member at the Broad, where he directs the Diabetes Research Group. He is also chair of the Department of Medicine at MGH. “Right now we have nothing that reverses diabetes. Addressing these processes at the root, rather than simply treating the symptoms, would really change how we treat this disease.”

Investigating cardiac fibrosis

The third program, focused on cardiac fibrosis, will leverage genetics, genomics, and machine learning to investigate the role of cardiac fibrosis in heart disease. The team aims to identify and validate genes that could serve as therapeutic targets to inhibit or possibly reverse fibrosis — a condition that has few effective therapies.

“I think this will be a framework for future investigation into the cardiometabolic space,” said Patrick Ellinor, who will co-direct the alliance as well as direct the cardiac portion. Ellinor is interim chief of cardiology and co-director of the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center at MGH. He is also an institute member and director of the Cardiovascular Disease Initiative at the Broad. 

“This is a real convergence of vision,” Florez said. “Novo Nordisk has decades of experience in drug development, and we at the Broad are leaders in genetics and understand the clinical space. We look forward to leveraging resources generated by the community to produce what’s really needed for treating these diseases.”

The Novo Nordisk side of the collaboration is anchored through the Novo Nordisk Bio Innovation Hub, an R&D unit designed to bring cutting-edge life science innovation from bench to bedside through co-creation partnerships, with a strategic focus within cardiometabolic, rare blood, and rare endocrine disorders.