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Research consortium aims to speed up development of Alzheimer’s therapy

Dr. Bradley T. Hyman, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mass. General, receives a lifetime achievement award from the Alzheimer’s Association Vancouver in 2012.
Alzheimer's Association/David W. Johnson
Dr. Bradley T. Hyman, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mass. General, receives a lifetime achievement award from the Alzheimer’s Association Vancouver in 2012.

Five drug makers, including Cambridge-based Biogen Inc., are banding together with academic scientists to form a research consortium aimed at speeding development of therapies for Alzheimer’s, a neurological disorder that has stubbornly eluded treatments.

The new group, which will be formally launched Thursday night at an event at Massachusetts General Hospital, is called the Massachusetts Center for Alzheimer Therapeutic Science, or MassCATS. It will be based at a Mass. General research center.

MassCATS’ high-powered partners will share some early-stage research and cell lines to help them answer questions and solve problems that could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s, which affects about 5.4 million Americans and millions more around the world. Their collaboration is “pre-competitive,” meaning findings that could jump-start drug development programs would be licensed to one or more companies to commercialize.

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“We want to build a community where pharma and academic researchers can come together,” said Dr. Bradley T. Hyman, neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mass. General. “Locally, we have an unbelievable depth of knowledge about Alzheimer’s.”

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The group was organized by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the state agency that promotes the biopharma and medical technology industries, but no state money was used. Each of the companies contributed $250,000 to form a funding pool of $1.25 million.

Besides Biogen, the MassCATS participants are AbbVie Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Merck & Co., and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. Sunovion is a Japanese-owned company based in Marlborough, while the others aren’t based in Massachusetts but have operations here.

The effort grew out of an earlier neuroscience alliance organized by the life sciences center in 2012. That group, which included many of the MassCATS members, was focused on Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.