Sunday, January 02, 2011

Japanese firm partners with local researchers to fight obesity

"In labs, we've cured obesity and diabetes in mice hundreds of times," Smith said. "But not all the things that work in mice work in people."...

Officials at Orlando's Sanford-Burnham Research Institute and Florida Hospital on Monday announced a major partnership with Asia's largest pharmaceutical company — an alliance that will explore new ways to treat obesity.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese firm that has made major investments in diabetes and obesity research, inked a two-year deal with the nonprofit biomedical research facility at Lake Nona and its joint venture with Florida Hospital, the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes.

The two-year collaboration includes research funding from Takeda, but officials involved in the agreement would not disclose the terms of the deal. However, Sanford-Burnham officials said the new alliance is one of the largest and most ambitious research partnerships that Takeda has conducted with the not-for-profit sector.

"In terms of their discovery types of partnerships, this is one of the most significant that they have ever established outside of Japan," said Dr. Daniel Kelly, scientific director of Sanford-Burnham's Lake Nona campus.

"We view this collaboration as an opportunity to further Takeda's goal of identifying targets for new therapeutics to treat obesity and its negative health consequences, including metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease," said Dr. Paul Chapman, head of Takeda's pharmaceutical research division.

The partnership is a significant step for Sanford-Burnham's Lake Nona campus, said Russell Allen, president of BioFlorida, the state's biomedical industry association.

"Takeda is a large, well-known company," he said. "It does help validate that Sanford-Burnham in Orlando is conducting strong science because Takeda is not going to partner with just anyone."

Although most obesity drugs on the market today target the brain — in hopes of controlling a person's appetite — those types of drugs often have serious side effects, including depression. Researchers at Sanford Burnham and the Translational Research Institute are taking another approach: Trying to make a person's muscles burn more fat.

"We're looking at ways to turn on fat-burning," said Dr. Steven Smith, scientific director at the Translational Research Institute. "The idea is that we can help people lose weight by turning on the fat-burning and fat-oxidation mechanisms."

The earliest stages of the research will include studying the muscles of those who are obese and learning what makes their muscles different from everyone else's. That information will be used by scientists at Sanford-Burnham and Takeda to do lab research.

Officials at the three organizations began discussing a potential partnership in early 2010. Being able to test ideas on people — instead of lab mice — made the collaboration attractive to the scientists involved.

"In labs, we've cured obesity and diabetes in mice hundreds of times," Smith said....

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