Bristol part of 20.8M study to drive drug discovery for atopic dermatitis and psoriasis

Generic image of a patient with psoriasis

Generic image of a patient with psoriasis

The lives of patients affected by atopic dermatitis and psoriasis could be improved thanks to the start of an EU-funded research project BIOMAP (Biomarkers in Atopic Dermatitis and Psoriasis). The five-year project will address key unmet needs in treating these common inflammatory skin conditions by analysing data from more than 50 000 patients to improve disease understanding, patient care and future therapies.

The collaborative team involves 26 universities, including the University of Bristol, five industry partners as well as five patient organisations. The European Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and the participating pharma companies provided 20.8 million funding for the first IMI project in the field of dermatology.

Atopic dermatitis and psoriasis affect more than 300-million people worldwide and are highly variable in terms of onset, severity, progression over time and response to treatment. Resulting in significant morbidity and an increased risk for associated conditions such as arthritis and asthma, inflammatory skin diseases are a huge burden to patients and families, care-givers and healthcare systems. Yet, despite many years of research, there are still significant gaps in the understanding of both conditions.

The clinicians and scientists of BIOMAP , who have joined forces in a large public-private partnership, will examine the causes and mechanisms of these conditions. By analysing the largest collection of patient data ever and performing advanced molecular investigations at the single cell level and in the tissue context, they aim at identifying biomarkers for variations in disease outcome. Taking advantage of recent technical developments in translational medicine, the project will drive drug discovery and improve direct disease management by combining clinical, genetic and epidemiological expertise with modern molecular analysis techniques and newly-developed tools in bioinformatics. BIOMAP is the first IMI project in the field of dermatology.

Assuming that the variation in symptoms and disease progression reflects fundamental differences at a molecular level, the researchers will take a holistic, systematic approach to identify patient subgroups with different subtypes of disease and different responses to therapy. Additionally, the BIOMAP consortium aims to examine the genetic and environmental factors which exert additional influence on disease outcome and treatment response as well as measurable factors in the patients’ blood and skin which reveal the disease subtype they belong to. In an unprecedented analysis of harmonised clinical and molecular data from more than 50,000 patients as well as healthy individuals, the BIOMAP researchers aim to derive a new model for disease classification in order to provide each patient with optimal treatment and an individualised therapy scheme.

Professor Stephan Weidinger, academic co-ordinator of the consortium and internationally-renowned clinician scientist from the University of Kiel, Germany, said: “The consortium hopes that atopic dermatitis and psoriasis will be identified as a series of different diseases rather than just one disease, each with a characteristic molecular ‘signature’.”

Dr Paul Bryce, the consortium’s project lead from Sanofi, added: “By understanding these diseases as comprehensively as possible, any molecularly defined endotypes we will find will help to drive the next generation of precision therapies that can improve the lives of patients.

Researchers at Bristol will provide statistical expertise and analysts for the genetic and molecular epidemiological analysis and causal inference. Dr Josine Min , Dr Lavinia Paternoster and colleagues plan to investigate the causal relationships between molecular traits and eczema and psoriasis.

Dr Min, Senior Research Associate in Genetic and Epigenetic Epidemiology in the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, said: “We would like to use genetic and molecular data from blood and skin from large populations including Bristol’s Children of the 90s study to identify causal mechanisms and predict disease course.”

Professor Catherine Smith from King’s College London and BIOMAP’s academic co-coordinator, explained: “The findings from BIOMAP will drive rapid drug discovery to target causal mechanisms, and will pinpoint biomarkers which can support clinicians to decide who, when and how to intervene.”

Dr Witte Koopmann, industrial co-project lead from LEO Pharma, added: “BIOMAP will help us to better understand the relationships between inherited susceptibility, environmental factors, and molecular profiles, as well as the roles of each of these in onset and progression of the diseases.”

The voices of patients living with Atopic Dermatitis and Psoriasis will be at the heart of BIOMAP, through the establishment of a Patient Advisory Group. It will ensure that patients’ insights, opinions and wishes are taken into account across all the multiple components of the project.

Helen McAteer, Chief Executive of the Psoriasis Association and member of the BIOMAP Patient Advisory Group, said: “The ambition and purpose of BIOMAP is a major opportunity to improve the lives of people with skin disease - we need information on why and who is going to develop severe disease, and also new approaches to treatment.

“Involving a Patient Advisory Group puts the needs of the patients at the heart of the project from the very beginning. By providing a European-wide platform for collaboration, BIOMAP will enable sharing of know-how and data about atopic dermatitis and psoriasis so that we can all work together like never before.”

BIOMAP is funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking under Grant Agreement No. 821511 and in-kind contributions of the participating pharma companies. The Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA.

The project will officially commence its activities with a first meeting in London on 10-12 April 2019.