Immunology at AbbVie: In the Lab with Lisa Olson

AbbVie’s Lisa Olson, PhD, vice president of immunology research, shares how AbbVie is approaching innovation to lead the way in the treatment of immune-mediated diseases with next generation breakthrough therapies.

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Personalized medicine is on everyone’s mind in drug development today. How is it playing out in immunology?

LO: In my lifetime I’ve seen personalized medicine progress from a rudimentary concept to playing a central role in the practice of oncology. In immunology, we’re at the very beginning stages.  I envision a day when a medicine bag will have multiple therapies for a disease and a diagnostic kit to guide the physician on which is best for each patient.

There’s a real need for personalized medicine in autoimmune diseases. Approximately 30 percent of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients don’t respond to anti-TNF agents1, so their disease is different. Something else is driving it.

AbbVie has teamed up with nine other pharma companies, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and several non-profits on the Accelerating Medicines Partnership.

Through tissue and blood sample analysis from people with RA and lupus, we’re hoping to identify differences between those RA patients who respond to therapies and those who do not, as well as provide a better systems-level understanding of disease mechanisms in both RA and lupus.  The ultimate goal of the partnership is to increase the number of new diagnostics and therapies for patients and to reduce the time and cost of developing them, with a specific focus on RA and lupus. 

AbbVie has been working with monoclonal antibodies (proteins that identify and bind to specific proteins) for more than 17 years. What’s next?

LO:  When I walk through the halls of our Bioresearch Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, I am inspired by the stories from patients whose lives have been changed and transformed by our treatments,

With that in the back of our minds, we keep searching and experimenting to find the next big advancement in science that could lead to the discovery of treatments for other diseases. And it excites me to say that our pipeline is full of exciting potential treatments that may help bring this vision to life.

Our scientists are testing the boundaries of our proprietary dual variable domain immunoglobulin (DVD-Ig™) platform, which seeks to enhance the effect of treatment by delivering two antibodies in a single agent.  With these compounds, we can potentially provide patients a one-two punch, addressing two clinically validated targets that are known to contribute to the pathogenesis of several inflammatory disorders.

Similarly, in oncology, our anti-epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) antibody drug conjugate (ADC) combines chemotherapy with an antibody aimed at EGFR. The goal of this type of research is to reduce side effects of traditional chemotherapy and enhance anti-tumor activity.

What’s the biggest challenge in treating serious immune-mediated diseases?

LO: People with severe autoimmune diseases still don’t have sufficient therapies to help restore their health, and that is where we are focused. For example, lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs, as well as irritable bowel disease, a chronic inflammation of all or part of your digestive tract, are very hot topics in the immune space.  Both of these diseases affect so many young people who are in need of better treatments over the course of their lives, and we’re working on identifying and prioritizing indications such as these and advancing therapies that deliver increased effectiveness.

Visit the Pipeline section for more information on AbbVie’s focus in Immunology.

1. Rubbert-Roth, Andrea et al. Treatment options in patients with rheumatoid arthritis failing initial TNF inhibitor therapy: a critical review. Arthritis Res Ther. 2009; 11(Suppl 1): S1.

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