Advancing Gastroenterology Research for Patients: A Q&A with Mary Beth Harler

October 08, 2020

Learn about Bristol Myers Squibb’s commitment to gastroenterology from Mary Beth Harler, senior vice president and head of Immunology and Fibrosis Development in the company’s Global Drug Development organization.

Mary Beth Harler, senior vice president and head of Immunology and Fibrosis Development

Mary Beth Harler, senior vice president and head of Immunology and Fibrosis Development

Q: Where is Bristol Myers Squibb focusing its efforts in gastroenterology? 

Mary Beth: At Bristol Myers Squibb, we’re committed to discovering, developing and delivering treatment options for appropriate patients in need, which includes a variety of diseases in gastroenterology. Our experience in the field is grounded in gastrointestinal cancers. Now, our scientific and development expertise has allowed us to curate an exciting early- and late-stage pipeline with investigational assets across a number of immune-mediated disease areas such as ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn’s disease and eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Recent research has uncovered emerging and under-recognized unmet needs for patients, clinicians and the wider gastroenterology community, indicating a need to focus on providing treatment options for patients.

Q: What are the clinical research objectives driving Bristol Myers Squibb’s focus on immune-mediated diseases in gastroenterology? 

Mary Beth: Patients living with these diseases often struggle to effectively manage them, given their unpredictable and often debilitating nature, and patients may not respond to, stop responding to or feel dissatisfied with disease management approaches. In UC and Crohn’s disease, which together are known as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), inflammation of the intestines can cause numerous complications and require multiple therapies to manage. Symptoms, including pain, fatigue and an urgency to use the restroom, can also significantly impact patients’ quality of life both physically and psychologically. 

In EoE, inflammation and tissue damage in the esophagus can lead to symptoms often mistaken for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), due to a low level of awareness about the disease. EoE can also lead to severe complications, including the inability to swallow foods. Currently, no therapies are approved in the U.S. for the treatment of the disease. 

Additionally, there is still much work to be done to understand the cause of the diseases that we are studying. Without understanding the cause, researchers cannot know with certainty that therapies are impacting the pathogenesis of the disease. Every clinical trial is an opportunity to improve our understanding of these diseases and closely assess the data to discover insights that move the field forward.

Q: Why is Bristol Myers Squibb poised to make meaningful contributions to the field of gastroenterology? 

Mary Beth: For all of us working at Bristol Myers Squibb, we are inspired by a single vision – transforming patients’ lives through science. I have always said that the scientific talent at Bristol Myers Squibb is what makes the company so unique, and this talent is enabling Bristol Myers Squibb to make strides in the field.

Our team took an innovative approach in following the science to explore the potential of the sphingonsine-1-phosphate (S1P) pathway for UC and Crohn’s disease, and in June announced promising topline results that excite us about our research efforts in IBD. 

We are also studying the TYK2 pathway, which impacts IL-23, IL-12 and Type I IFN-driven responses, cytokines that have been implicated in a number of immune-mediated diseases, including UC and Crohn’s disease. Additionally, as patients with EoE have been found to have overexpressed IL-13 in the esophageal mucosa, we are exploring the role of IL-13 in the potential treatment of this disease.  

Our heritage in transformational science for immune-mediated diseases has positioned us to build a leading immunology franchise and pipeline, with a focus on finding solutions that have the potential to transform outcomes for the gastroenterology community.

Q: What is Bristol Myers Squibb’s long-term vision in immunology and gastroenterology?

Mary Beth: Our vision in immunology is to help patients affected by immune-mediated diseases. This vision is backed by industry-leading researchers and drug developers who have a passion for science, a curiosity for discovery and a commitment to translating these advances into medicines that can make a difference for patients. Supported by robust capabilities, collective experience and a strong, global presence, we are advancing science through internally discovered medicines as well as external partnerships.

With exciting milestones achieved this year, as well as ahead of us, our teams are advancing a robust pipeline of investigational compounds in a number of gastroenterological diseases in order to help address patient populations in need of effective treatment options. 

Q: On a personal note, what is it about your work that most motivates you?  

Mary Beth: I am constantly motivated and inspired by the incredible scientific talent at Bristol Myers Squibb. It was and is the scientific excellence that brought me, and subsequently, keeps me at the company. Each and every day I’m in awe of what we’re doing for patients across the globe, and it fills me with excitement as we continue to make impactful progress for patients in need.