Our Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels notes that “Catalyzing innovation at Johnson & Johnson is about creating strong networks of people who can combine resources, ideas and technologies in a new way”. This is exactly what our most recent collaboration accomplishes by combining specific knowledge and resources from across seven organizations – Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Janssen Research & Development, INSERM, CNRS and the University of Nantes, King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London and the University of Glasgow – in a research consortium to develop small molecule IL-15 antagonists for the treatment of autoimmune disease such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
As part of our focus on exploring new pathways to develop first-in-class small molecule therapies in immune-mediated diseases and working with the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), we were introduced to Professor Yannick Jacques from the Centre de Recherche en Cancérologie Nantes-Angers (CNRS/Inserm/University of Nantes/University of Angers). Professor Jacques, director of research (exceptional class) at the CNRS, has vast expertise in the complex molecular interactions between IL-15 and the corresponding receptor subunits involved in cis- and trans-signalling events and the contribution of these in immune mechanisms.
IL-15 is a protein with a broad spectrum of biological activity that is critical to the development and survival of many cells such as CD8+ T cells and natural killer (NK) cells that are crucial to immune function. The dysregulation of IL-15 is implicated in several autoimmune disorders, and the utility of targeting IL-15 cytokine or its receptor has been demonstrated using large molecules, including antibodies, in animal models and clinical disease settings.
As we started to explore the question of small molecule antagonism of the IL-15 axis and talked with some of the world’s leading researchers in this area, we quickly realized that we could potentially accelerate the pace of our discovery efforts by teaming up with a larger network of experts with specific science and clinical and translational biology knowledge.
This external discovery programme brings together the unique thinking and assays from INSERM, CNRS and the University of Nantes. Furthermore, by working with internationally renowned thought leaders in Psoriasis (Prof Frank Nestle, King’s College London), Rheumatoid Arthritis (Prof Iain McInnes, The University of Glasgow) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, (Prof Tom MacDonald, Queen Mary University of London), this world-leading scientific network comprehensively unites the immunological understanding of IL-15 biology and access to patient samples and translational expertise in a novel approach for generating small molecule IL-15 antagonists for the treatment of immune-mediated inflammatory disease.
To further support the project, specific expertise and leadership is also provided from the Janssen Discovery Sciences organization in areas such as modelling-based drug design, medicinal chemistry, high throughput screening, cellular screening and drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. Engaging our Discovery Sciences teams’ specific expertise at the earliest stages of this collaboration facilitates ongoing scientific exchange and collaboration with an eye to developing a specific drug development candidate.
Open innovation – the idea that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, you cannot rely solely on your own research but should integrate innovation from other sources – is certainly critical to developing new products. But this can only be accomplished by leveraging a network to identify and integrate the best ideas from around the world.
Being on the ground in our London Innovation Centre made it easier to reach out and bring people together to establish and advance this collaboration. With this powerful new framework in place, we are excited to get started working toward our common goal.