JAPANESE

Next Generation Research Incubator

Research and development network of innovative medicine for immune related rare and intractable diseases

The ReDenim network is developing therapies to treat rare and intractable diseases

Scientists at Chiba University have a long track record of excellence in clinical research, particularly for investigations in patients with immune-related diseases. And Chiba University researchers have made a number of important breakthroughs in basic immunology and disease biology. However, connecting these two areas, a field known as translational research, has often been less successful.

That is a problem that Shinichiro Motohashi wants to fix. Motohashi leads Chiba’s Research and Development Network of Innovative Medicine for Immune Related Rare and Intractable Diseases — ReDenim. The network is aiming to provide the clinical support and resources needed to take discoveries from the lab to the clinic. In particular, it has singled out two disease areas for which there are currently no good treatment options — deadly forms of cancer, such as head and neck tumors; and rare diseases that each afflict fewer than 50,000 people in Japan, but collectively affect about 10 per cent of the population.

Two-pronged approach

Led by Motohashi, the tumor immunity team intends to capitalize on Chiba University’s expertise in developing cell-based immunotherapies. Their approach uses tumor-destroying natural killer T-cells to search for combination therapies that can further modulate the tumor immune microenvironment in a favorable way. They also intend to identify biomarkers that can predict how individual patients will respond to these treatments.

The rare-disease team, led by Sonoko Misawa, is using immune-modulating drugs and gene therapies to address neurological syndromes, enzyme deficiencies, inflammatory conditions and recalcitrant fungal infections. Researcher Masayuki Kuroda is also working with the cancer team to develop a transgenic fat cell technology that has therapeutic applications for both tumors and the rare metabolism disorders he is studying.

Importantly, both teams will share research experiences, technology platforms and manufacturing facilities. “Sharing the know-how to treat each disease within the network will accelerate drug development,” says Motohashi. And the two teams will also have access to support units at the university’s Core Clinical Research Hospital, a designation granted to Chiba University under Japan’s Medical Care Act in recognition of its ability to apply basic science toward therapeutic applications. This support includes consultation services on issues such as intellectual property, project management, clinical trial design and other steps needed to fulfill the promise of translational medicine.

“Our ultimate goal is to form a therapeutic cluster that can be applied to a wide variety of rare and intractable diseases,” Motohashi says. He can even foresee a day when the infrastructure created through ReDenim could be used to develop new therapies for common diseases, such as diabetes or lung cancer.

Judging by the progress they have made so far, Motohashi and his co-workers are well on their way to fulfilling their dream, and many outside of Chiba University are recognizing the network’s potential. ReDenim has already forged collaborations with some of the world’s leading experts in cancer immunotherapy and rare diseases, and it is working with Japanese drug companies to partner on additional research projects.