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Kidney diseases research collaboration renewed

Oct. 6, 2022, 9:42 AM

Shown here are members of the team working to evaluate new drug candidates for the treatment of kidney diseases.
Shown here are members of the team working to evaluate new drug candidates for the treatment of kidney diseases.

by Nancy Humphrey

Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Bayer have agreed to continue a strategic research alliance to evaluate new drug candidates for the treatment of kidney diseases, with the goal of accelerating the translation of innovative approaches from the laboratory to pre-clinical development.

The initial collaboration began in August 2017 with an initial plan to work together for five years. Due to the success of the collaboration, Bayer and VUMC have agreed to continue the scientific alliance focusing on existing projects and beginning new projects.

More than 30 million people have some form of kidney disease, with the number greater in the African American, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander populations. Patients suffering from end-stage renal disease (ESRD) face dialysis, transplantation or palliative care as their only therapeutic options, but there are a limited number of kidneys available through living and cadaver donors to meet demand.

To further complicate the problem, drug discovery and development takes several years and includes various stages and phases of testing.

“This is an exciting collaboration to identify potential targets for different kidney diseases and develop therapies — drugs or biologics — that can have an impact on therapy,” said Raymond Harris, MD, director of Vanderbilt’s Division of Nephrology, the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Professor of Nephrology and professor of Medicine and Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. “Targeting specific diseases is somewhat of a precision medicine and we’re delighted this collaboration is continuing. Bayer has a specific interest in the development of new therapies for kidney disease.

“They just had a recent drug released that is very effective for diabetic kidney disease, and they’re interested in expanding their portfolio by working with us,” Harris said. “We are working with some outstanding scientists in Germany, and we’ve made a lot of progress with six active projects at Vanderbilt being conducted with a combination of investigators from the Division of Nephrology, Pathology, Biochemistry and Structural Biology,” he said, adding that several projects are getting close to being studied in humans.

“The goal of our collaboration is to capitalize on the diverse expertise of both organizations to develop investigational new drugs for introduction into clinical trials,” said Kyle Brown, PhD, who manages the alliance for VUMC. “With the combined efforts of investigators at Vanderbilt and Bayer, the collaboration currently has multiple ongoing programs aimed at developing therapies for a variety of kidney diseases. The continuation of our collaboration is an opportunity to develop additional new drug targets with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of people suffering from kidney disease.”

VUMC and Bayer established the agreement to jointly conduct research activities including target validation, assay development and lead optimization.

Both parties have contributed personnel and infrastructure to address important scientific questions. Bayer will have an option for the exclusive use of the collaboration’s results.

“Kidney diseases continue to be a huge burden for individual patients, treating physicians, heath care systems and society,” said Frank Eitner, MD, vice president and head of Kidney Diseases Research at Bayer. “By combining the deep kidney disease understanding at Vanderbilt’s Center for Kidney Diseases with Bayer’s Precision Nephrology Drug Discovery, we are continuously aiming at translating our disease understanding into treatment opportunities for patients. We hope to jointly identify, characterize and optimize new preclinical drug candidates that can ultimately be offered to our patients. It’s our driving motivation to positively impact and transform the lives of patients suffering from kidney diseases.”

In addition to Harris and Brown, other Vanderbilt faculty members involved include: Ambra Pozzi, PhD, Roy Zent, MBBCh, PhD, Jens Meiler, PhD, Agnes Fogo, MD, Kimryn Rathmell, PhD, MD, Walter Chazin, PhD, Matthew Wilson, MD, PhD, Josh Bauer, PhD, Ming-Zhi Zhang, MD, M.Sc., and Takamune Takahashi, MD, PhD.

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