Harnessing translational medicine to guide drug discovery and development

May 25, 2021
By Robert Plenge, Senior Vice President and Head, Translational Medicine, Head, Immunology, Cardiovascular and Fibrosis Thematic Research Center

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t Bristol Myers Squibb, our goal is to get effective, safe medicines to patients as quickly and efficiently as possible. One of our greatest tools in making this happen is our robust translational medicine team.

Robert Plenge, Senior Vice President and Head, Translational Medicine; Head, Immunology, Cardiovascular and Fibrosis Thematic Research Center

Robert Plenge, Senior Vice President and Head, Translational Medicine; Head, Immunology, Cardiovascular and Fibrosis Thematic Research Center

Translational medicine is an interdisciplinary approach that integrates scientific understanding into portfolio decision making, with the goal of accelerating the discovery and development of new medicines for patients. Our translational medicine team works across therapeutic areas of focus and in collaboration with many functions throughout the organization to help analyze data, implement past learnings to guide clinical trials and ultimately expedite the time it takes to get potentially life-saving medicines to the patients who need them most. The translational medicine team at Bristol Myers Squibb primarily supports late-stage development. However, translational scientists are also embedded within research and early development to perform exploratory analyses relevant to our pre-clinical and early-stage pipelines.

Translational Medicine – Process, Opportunity, Pillars 

There are several reasons we believe we’re performing industry-leading translational medicine research at Bristol Myers Squibb. First and foremost, we have a talented roster of scientists who are committed to making discoveries that will transform patients’ lives. In addition, we have a robust portfolio of assets in clinical studies across disease areas, providing us with a treasure-trove of information that we can leverage for future research. And last, but not least, is how we use the data and insights we uncover. Ultimately, our goal in translational medicine is to provide information that helps our researchers follow the science – wherever it may take them – in order to discover and develop therapies for patients in need. 

Our unique approach to translational medicine can be categorized into three “pillars,” or broad areas of focus.

The first is an emphasis on helping our development teams make informed decisions on key assets across the pipeline – from oncology and hematology to immunology, fibrosis and cardiovascular diseases. We are looking for data around biomarkers that can help guide patient stratification, or data regarding the selectivity of a compound, to name just a few, all with the intention of guiding programs in an efficient and efficacious manner. To use an example from our pipeline, our teams work to reverse-translate biomarker data from our solid tumor oncology programs back into research and early development, applying key learnings to drive decision-making for our next generation of cancer medicines.

The second pillar is more exploratory in nature and is focused on helping to build a greater understanding of our assets – in other words, researching how an investigational asset is different from existing therapies mechanistically and in which scenarios or patient populations it may be most effective. An example of this in practice is the work the team has done to refine our understanding of the TYK2 pathway, which plays a key role in several immune-mediated diseases distinct from other therapeutically targeted pathways.

Finally, the third pillar is where the translational medicine team leverages genetic, genomic, and molecular profiling to inspire and guide new opportunities and areas of research. This work sits above any particular asset, utilizing computational research, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other sophisticated technologies to garner robust insights from our clinical trials, partner trials and real-world data to make larger conclusions about key disease areas. This could help us refine therapeutic hypotheses or explore indications; it also helps our scientists better understand difficult to treat diseases as they work to build a framework for new research.

At Bristol Myers Squibb, we place a strong emphasis on human biology and large-scale clinical data sets, which inform our work across the pillars but particularly guide pillar three. We use this data to guide decisions that fuel the next wave of drug discovery, enabling focused purpose and innovation in our scientific research.

Taken together, these three pillars ensure we are best using our knowledge to not only strategically guide ongoing work, but also to identify and explore what else is out there that needs to be addressed. The power of translational medicine has led us to many discoveries and aspires to shave a significant amount of time from the clinical development process. But our work continues. We are constantly looking to discover and deliver new knowledge and translate insights into transformational medicines for patients.