A key initiative of the Mass General Research Institute—developing new ways for researchers to collaborate with industry—reached an important milestone recently with the signing of a multi-year, multi-lab collaboration with Amgen to address key challenges in cardiometabolics.

The agreement brings together physician-investigators from three departments and one thematic center at Mass General with Amgen research and development teams.

It is also the first agreement to use a new model of collaboration developed and fostered by the Strategic Alliances team within the Office of the Scientific Director at Mass General (more about it in the second part of this announcement).

Each party brings key strengths to the collaboration. Mass General has expertise in biology, technology, biomarkers, preclinical models, assays and screening libraries. Amgen has complementary research expertise including world-class human genetics, a deep understanding of disease biology, and the molecular engineering expertise needed to design the right drug for the right target

The collaboration will be led by a joint steering committee that will allow the team to quickly expand the work if promising new directions are identified.

"At both an interpersonal and scientific level, there is clear synergy between the Amgen and Mass General teams and a shared passion for making a big impact in cardiometabolic disease," says Saptarsi Haldar, MD, Vice President of Research for Cardiometabolic Disorders at Amgen.

"The outstanding collaborators at Amgen bring complementary expertise to our common goal of improving care for patients with cardiovascular disease,” adds Anthony Rosenzweig, MD, chief of the Cardiology Division and co-director of the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center at Mass General. "We believe such collaborations will be essential to translating science."

The Mass General research team is led by Principal Investigators (PI) Aaron Aguirre, MD, PhD, and Gregory Lewis, MD, along with co-PIs Jason Roh, MD, Guillermo Tearney, MD, PhD, Denise Gee, MD and Ravi Shah, MD. The collaboration consists of translational research projects intended to address unmet medical needs experienced by many patients around the globe.

Identifying Targets for Heart Failure

This is a bedside-to-bench project to explore new targets to treat obesity as a way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

"Our heart failure team is excited to collaborate with Amgen in developing a more detailed understanding of functional limitations imposed by heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), their relationship to molecular pathway dysregulation in obesity, and the potential to rapidly translate mutual observations into interventional opportunities for patients with HFpEF,” says Lewis.

Exploring the Role of Angiogenesis in Patients with Ischemic Heart Disease

This is a bench-to-bedside project that will explore the role of angiogenesis—the formation of new blood vessels—in ischemic heart disease (a condition in which a patient experiences recurring chest pain or discomfort when the heart is unable to get an adequate supply of blood).

In addition to conventional molecular studies, this project will take advantage of Mass General’s unique technologies for single-cell imaging of the heart, blood flow imaging down to the capillary level and cellular imaging of cardiac tissue structures.

We’re excited to collaborate with Amgen in the investigation of new treatments for heart attack. The Amgen team brings tremendous expertise in drug development as well as resources and knowledge about the validation of new targets that will amplify our efforts in the laboratory.

Aaron Aguirre, MD, PhD
Co-Principal Investigator

Rethinking Research Collaborations—Internally and Externally

The Amgen collaboration stems from a multiyear effort to change how Mass General researchers collaborate—both internally among biomedical and physician scientists—and externally with industry.

This new model starts with identifying the problem to be solved and the key knowledge gaps, then aligning the right people, resources and scientific skills—both here at the hospital and with industry partners—to develop new treatments that improve patient care and make sense in the healthcare marketplace.

This effort has been led by Gabriela Apiou, PhD, director of Strategic Alliances, in partnership with Patrick Fortune, PhD, Vice President of Market Sectors at Mass General Brigham Innovation, external advisors from large pharma, biotech and venture capital companies, and the members of the Mass General Research Institute Advisory Council. Strategic Alliances team member Carla D`Avanzo, PhD, is the research alliance manager for the Amgen collaboration.

Internally, several principal investigators (biomedical and physician scientists) need to come together as a team to develop most relevant solutions to important—but often very complex—healthcare problems. They have to articulate a cohesive research vision that serves to engage in sound dialogues and ultimately in long-term, multi-lab, jointly governed collaborations with industry.

Gabriela Apiou, PhD
Director of Strategic Alliances

"I think the key to success in collaborations such as these is a clear understanding and appreciation of the capabilities that each party brings," adds Fortune. "This includes the quality of the science and technology of the respective staffs as well as a sense of shared commitment to outcomes that address the objectives of the collaborating parties."

This effort has resulted in the formation of seven thematic research programs at Mass General in key areas of medical need:

  • Epigenetics
  • Immune Oncology
  • Neurodegeneration in Neuroinflammation
  • Microbiome
  • Cardiometabolics
  • Rare Diseases
  • Antimicrobial Resistance

The thematic programs are comprised of 215 investigators from 17 departments and centers, who bring a unique blend of expertise in biology, medicine and technology, the capability for fundamental and translational research, clinical care and access to patient samples.

Training the Next Generation of Researchers

Apiou and her team have also partnered with Robert Tepper, MD, partner and co-founder of Third Rock Ventures and member of the Mass General Research Institute Advisory Council, to launch the Bridging Academia and Industry course and project competition, which seeks to create a new culture of innovation through collaboration.

The course, which is co-taught by 40 faculty members from academia and industry, has trained 31 Mass General faculty members across all disciplines in the past two years.

"The new collaborative model is practiced through the thematic programs and taught in the Bridging Academia and Industry course and project competition," explains Apiou.