SAN DIEGO – (February 25, 2009) A major asthma discovery by a researcher at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology has been licensed by MedImmune, a leading innovation-focused biotechnology company and wholly owned subsidiary of AstraZeneca PLC. MedImmune licensed the discovery to explore its use in the development of a potential biologics drug for treating asthma.
Under the agreement, MedImmune was granted exclusive intellectual property rights to the discovery, which demonstrated the pivotal role of a protein called the OX40 ligand in asthma. The finding was made by the laboratory of La Jolla Institute scientist Michael Croft, Ph.D., and marked a major milestone in asthma research.
Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that can cause wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. It is the most common serious chronic disease of childhood and is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among U.S. children under age 15.
More than 30 million Americans (or 11.2 percent of the population) reported having a history of asthma in 2005, including nine million children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 20 million Americans said they currently have the disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates asthma-related health care costs in the U.S. at $14 billion annually.
La Jolla Institute leaders hailed the agreement as significant for asthma sufferers. “This agreement with MedImmune is an important first step towards the goal of translating some of Dr. Croft’s groundbreaking work in the laboratory into an innovative therapy for improving the lives of asthma patients,” said Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D., president and scientific director of the La Jolla Institute, a nonprofit biomedical research institute and international leader in immunology research.
Kronenberg added that such licensing arrangements are a central part of the mission of research institutes to ensure that discoveries stemming from private and publicly funded research are put into direct use for improving human health. The American Asthma Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for asthma, and the NIH supported Dr. Croft’s research. “As a nonprofit biomedical research institute, we are dedicated to finding the molecular causes of diseases, with the hope that our discoveries will one day be translated into new and better therapies,” Kronenberg said. “This agreement with MedImmune is a significant advancement toward that goal.”
Dr. Croft’s research has previously shown in experimental animal models that using an antibody to block the interaction of the OX40 ligand with OX40, its receptor, can substantially suppress the lung inflammation and accompanying symptoms of an asthma attack. OX40 ligand is a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) superfamily of molecules, which are signaling proteins used by inflammation-causing cells to communicate with the rest of the immune system. Blockade of interactions of TNF, the first member of the family to be discovered, with its receptors, is an approved treatment for several diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. It is therefore possible that blockade of other members of this family, such as OX40L, might benefit some patients with inflammatory diseases, including asthma. MedImmune has a strong focus in developing human monoclonal antibodies for potential prevention and treatment of respiratory and inflammatory diseases, and currently has multiple programs underway targeting asthma treatment. The company will use its expertise within this arena for the development of a potential drug candidate targeting OX40 ligand.
Dr. Croft began studying OX40 in the 1990s because of its strong effect on T cells, which are pivotal cells in the body for controlling immune and inflammatory responses. Dr. Croft’s finding is particularly exciting because it offers the potential to control asthma for longer periods of time and with much more specificity than current therapies.
“The licensing of this intellectual property by MedImmune further validates the importance of Dr. Croft’s discovery in the field of asthma research,” Kronenberg said. “We are thrilled that MedImmune has recognized its potential and will be leveraging the intellectual property for its internal product candidates.” He added that MedImmune possesses the capabilities to take the discovery through all stages of clinical development, as demonstrated by its successful track record of bringing biologics to market.
About La Jolla Institute
Founded in 1988, the La Jolla Institute for Immunology is a nonprofit medical research center dedicated to increasing knowledge and improving human health through studies of the immune system. Scientists at the institute carry out research searching for cures for cancer, allergy and asthma, infectious diseases, and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. LIAI’s research staff includes more than 100 Ph.Ds.