Q: What is IBD and how does it affect patients’ lives?
Mark: Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), which encompass ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease, are chronic, often debilitating immune-mediated diseases that take a toll on the physical, emotional and social well-being of those affected. Despite available therapies, many people living with IBD struggle to manage their disease effectively, facing numerous complications and requiring multiple treatments.
In IBD the balance of the immune system is disrupted, leading to inflammation of the intestinal tissue. Symptoms of IBD, including pain, bloody stools, severe diarrhea, fatigue, urgency to use the restroom and even fecal incontinence, can significantly impact patients’ quality of life both physically and psychologically.
It is estimated that approximately 12.6 million people worldwide are living with IBD.
Q: What excites you about the work Bristol Myers Squibb is doing in IBD?
Mark: I am very excited that Bristol Myers Squibb is focused on identifying novel mechanisms of action for inflammation in order to develop therapies that work in new and different ways from what is currently available. By researching new mechanisms to address IBD, we aim to give more people hope that there is a therapy that will work for them. This includes looking beyond the typical immune pathways to further understand and address what is happening in the IBD disease process.
We are also working hard to develop new therapies that may alleviate some of the burden around administration. Understanding how a therapy might fit into a patient’s life and daily routine is important and should be taken into consideration when developing new treatment options. These patients are already living with an incredibly demanding disease, and so we want to make sure their treatment regimen does not add an additional burden.
Q: Can you explain the unmet needs that patients with IBD face?
Mark: Although advances have been made in the field with new drugs, the remission rates for any single therapy still remain very low. Because of this, we need more therapeutic options for patients, as well as a better understanding of how to match patients to treatments. As a practicing gastroenterologist, I had a number of patients who did not respond well enough or even at all to the classes of medication that are currently available, and so we need more options.
Q: What are some of the challenges researchers face in developing treatments for IBD?
Mark: One of the biggest challenges is identifying what is driving IBD symptoms and identifying how that varies from person to person. Improving our understanding of the disease overall, both from a biology perspective and a population perspective, will help uncover insights that will inform new discoveries. IBD is a heterogenous group of diseases and therefore requires a sophisticated and nuanced approach, and we will work hard to advance the scientific understanding of the condition to come up with new solutions that match its complexity, with the ultimate goal of having each patient’s treatment regimen tailored to their specific disease.
At Bristol Myers Squibb, we are focused on insights-based innovation to drive the next wave of immune-modulators and precision medicines forward. With each therapy we are developing, we are looking to measure which patients might respond based on disease characteristics and biomarkers related to each medicine’s mechanism of action.
A deeper understanding of the disease combined with a more personalized approach to treatment could provide more therapeutic options and reduce or eliminate the number of therapies that patients typically cycle through before they find one that works for them.
Q: How is Bristol Myers Squibb partnering with experts and advocacy groups?
Mark: At Bristol Myers Squibb, we have a passion for the bigger purpose — shaping the future of patient care in gastroenterology. By factoring in patient perspectives and partnering with healthcare providers and the gastroenterology community, our insights-based innovation is focused on the holistic well-being of those living with these conditions.
We collaborate with the physicians who take care of patients to better understand patients' needs and with the academic leaders who are doing research so we can form partnerships on research to advance the field in innovative ways.
In addition, we partner with patient advocacy groups so we can help address the unmet needs of patients in all aspects of their lives, not just their symptoms. For example, the more patients know about their disease, the more they're empowered to be able to take care of themselves. IBD often turns a patient’s entire life upside down, and so we, as a community, want to be able to support them in multiple aspects of their lives beyond just the medication.
Q: How has your work as a physician shaped your work at Bristol Myers Squibb?
Mark: Taking care of patients with IBD and doing research in IBD for over 15 years prior to joining Bristol Myers Squibb has shaped how I look at research; everything I do is laser-focused on the patients. We are driven to transform patients’ lives through science, and that is always at the forefront. I look at research here as a kind of applied science where I am getting to help solve the problems that my patients came to me with for so many years. I am always asking ‘What can we do to try to make a difference?’ with the goal of solving a problem that is causing someone to suffer.
Q: On a personal note, what is it about your work that most motivates you?
Mark: That’s easy. I have no shortage of motivation in my role. My patients—their faces, stories, families, surgeries and years of suffering, especially those to whom I could not offer a treatment that worked for them—are what motivate me every single day. When I left practice as a physician, I gave my patients my word that I would dedicate myself to trying to make progress in this disease and help to come up with new options and better ways to treat IBD. I have that hunger, that fire, that motivation driving me forward.