Servier and UCL Partner to Battle Scleroderma and Lupus

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by Mary Chapman |

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Servier, collaboration, UCL

A new collaboration between Servier Pharmaceuticals and University College London (UCL) seeks to speed the discovery of new therapies for immune-inflammatory disorders such as scleroderma.

The initial two-year agreement calls for Servier to share scientific knowledge with UCL researchers who are investigating how scleroderma develops, as well as modified pathways in lupus. The premise is that a better understanding of disease processes will lead to new therapies.

“We know how the body’s immune system switches off some functions after it’s responded to bouts of infection or experienced an injury,” Derek Gilroy, chair of experimental inflammation and pharmacology at UCL Medical School, said in a press release. “We think that these internal checkpoints are altered in people who have chronic inflammatory diseases.”

Also known as systemic sclerosis, scleroderma is a chronic disease that affects connective tissue. It is characterized by thick and hardened skin caused by excessive production of collagen, the chief component of scar tissue. For this project, scientists want to uncover scleroderma’s molecular and cellular makeup.

“Scleroderma is a disease that leads to scarring and fibrosis in many organs, with limited treatments available,” said Christopher Denton, PhD, a professor of experimental rheumatology at UCL Medical School. “This collaboration will help define the potential of new treatment approaches that could have long-term impact in scleroderma, but also in many other diseases where scarring and blood vessel damage occur.”

Claude Bertrand, executive vice president of research and development at France-based Servier, called collaboration with academia a key part of the company’s treatment discovery and development strategy. “The UCL team we’re working with have considerable expertise in both lupus and systemic sclerosis, and they’re based at one of the top institutions for medical and health research globally,” he said.

UCL’s Division of Medicine has been successful in immune-inflammatory diseases, pioneering the use of rituximab to treat rheumatoid arthritis, said Robert Kleta, the division’s director. Rituximab, sold under the brand name Rituxan in the U.S. and MabThera in Europe, has been used off-label in people with scleroderma.

“We’re looking forward to creating synergies between Servier and UCL scientific expertise, with the aim of a successful and fast translation into therapeutic solutions for the benefit of patients suffering from lupus and systemic sclerosis,” said Philippe Moingeon, PhD, head of the Servier Center for Therapeutic Innovation in Immuno-Inflammatory Diseases.

Celia Caulcott, UCL vice-provost of Enterprise, said she believes the partnership will be a model for future collaborations between academia and industry.

“The major health challenges of the 21st century involve conditions with complex, multifaceted pathology, and making progress will require collaboration between the best research minds in universities and our innovative partners in industry,” she said. “The immune-inflammatory diseases are an excellent case in point.”