Web of Discovery

June 14, 2017 | By Luisa Salter-Cid, Ph.D., Head of Immunology Discovery

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t the core of our discovery efforts, an understanding of the immune system has supported our fundamental study of how to treat diseases – from autoimmune conditions to immuno-oncology and even heart disease and fibrosis. 

Web of Discovery: Exploring Immune System Interconnectivity

What do the study of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis have in common? In our research, we explore the underlying immune connections and apply them as we "turn up" and "turn down" the immune system in the drug discovery process. Our work across Autoimmune Disease, Immuno-Oncology, Fibrosis, and Cardiovascular Disease is deeply rooted in our pioneering work and core understanding of immunology, which began over 20 years ago. These connections allow us to see the bigger picture of immune response and generate more impactful findings for patients. 

Finding Connections

The immune system is very complex, but carefully balanced in most people. When the immune system is working as it should, a system of checks and balances enables the body to protect itself against diseases or other potential threats. Autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), manifest when the system loses its balance and attacks healthy cells.

While there are as many as 500 distinct autoimmune diseases, there are underlying connections behind them, and those connections are fundamental to how we conduct our research.  Our deep understanding of the biology of immune pathways informs our thinking, ensuring that our pipeline assets are targeted to the conditions that have significant unmet needs.

These connections, though, exist beyond autoimmune diseases - our immuno-oncology, heart failure and fibrosis research is also built upon our deep understanding of the immune system.

These connections are most clear in autoimmune disease and immuno-oncology, which can be looked at as two sides of the same coin: in immuno-oncology, we aim to “turn up” the immune system to enable it to kill cancerous cells, whereas in autoimmune diseases, our goal is to “turn down” the immune system to keep it from attacking healthy cells. In our research, we may approach the same key cells and pathways in the immune system in different ways to apply to different diseases.

Deep understanding of immunology is the cornerstone of our work at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

For example, we have developed medicines targeting the CTLA-4 pathway - one medicine aiming to turn up the immune response in cancer, and one aiming to turn it down, in autoimmune diseases. This approach is not uncommon in our research, as we explore other immune pathways and work   collaboratively to maximize the impact of our biological discoveries

Translating Science into Meaningful Outcomes for Patients

Translational medicine – research to further our understanding of disease biology and to identify the patient populations most likely to derive benefit from therapy – is a driving force behind these discoveries and is playing an increasingly important role in our research. Our translational medicine work aims to identify patients that may be more likely to respond to treatment through our understanding of disease biology and the study of potential biomarkers and diagnostics. For example, treating RA early on – prior to significant disease progression – could have an impact on slowing the disease’s effect over time. Translational research will help us identify patients sooner and select the right treatment for them based on their specific disease biology, potentially before they even begin to exhibit the painful symptoms of the disease, and possibly prevent the frustration of trying multiple therapies before finding a treatment that works.

Deep understanding of immunology is the cornerstone of our work at Bristol-Myers Squibb.  We continually push ourselves and our research to best understand the complexities of the immune system, so that one day, patients with immune-mediated diseases will have access to the right treatment for them at the right time.