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German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG will invest more than $30 million over the next five years to create a lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to develop drugs to treat chronic lung diseases.

The lab in the Longwood Medical Area will employ about 20 scientists from Bayer, Brigham, and Massachusetts General Hospital. The three organizations will equally share the rights to any discoveries made as part of the venture.

“The invaluable expertise that BWH and MGH bring really complements our own strengths in drug discovery and development, making this collaboration particularly special,” said Dr. Joerg Moeller, an executive vice president of Bayer and head of global research and development.

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Brigham and MGH, two of the state’s best-known teaching hospitals, help make up Partners HealthCare, the largest health care provider in Massachusetts.

Chronic lung disease is a broad term for a number of conditions of the airways, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Smoking cigarettes is the primary cause of the disease in wealthy and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. Indoor air pollution, including the use of coal, is the main cause in lower-income countries.

About 65 million people have moderate to severe COPD worldwide, according to the WHO, and more than 3 million died from it in 2005. The WHO estimates the disorder will become the third leading cause of death globally by 2030.

At one time, COPD was more common in men. But because of increased tobacco use among women in affluent countries and the higher risk of exposure to indoor air pollution in poor countries, the disease now affects men and women almost equally.

Dr. Edwin Silverman, a pulmonary specialist at Brigham and one of the leaders of the lab, said current treatments only address the symptoms and aren’t particularly effective. These include medicines that patients inhale to open bronchial tubes.

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In contrast, he predicted the new collaboration will lead to novel approaches to treat the underlying biological mechanisms of chronic lung diseases.

Bayer has been collaborating more often with scientists and physicians in Massachusetts in recent years.

Since 2013, the drug company has formed three partnerships with the nonprofit Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to develop drugs to fight cancer, to use genomic information to gauge the risk of heart disease, and to create a “precision cardiology laboratory.” The cardiology lab also has about 20 employees.


Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com