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Other Roche Research and Development
Roche was one of the first companies to recognise the importance of external innovation. We have maintained a model that values external innovation as highly as our own internally derived discoveries and established collaborations as the cornerstone of our R&D strategy. Accordingly, Roche NZ has partnered with multiple research institutions and organisations within New Zealand. Through partnerships we can build a better future together with medicines that make a real difference to patients.
In 2013 Roche NZ partnered with the Brain Health Research Centre, Otago University and this partnership continues today.
In 2016, Roche began supporting The New Zealand Society for Oncology (NZSO) which brings oncologists and cancer researchers together. As a leading developer of cancer medicines, Roche is proud of its collaboration with NZSO.
Brain Health Research Centre
In 2013 Roche NZ partnered with the Brain Health Research Centre, Otago University, to provide funding for the Hanns Mohler Doctoral Scholarship. Professor Hanns Mohler, a very active researcher, has been instrumental in discovering targets for life changing medicines in the field of neuroscience and is one of the most cited scientists in his field.
This grant of $10,000 each has enabled doctoral students to continue their research. The grant is awarded by the Brain Health Research Centre independent of Roche. We recognise that breakthroughs that have positive impact on patients' lives do not come easily; this grant is designed to assist young scientists here in New Zealand pursue their own breakthroughs.
This is what our supported scientists say about the work they are doing.
Large networks of strongly connected neurons form the structural basis of healthy brain functions. From our motor skills to our memories, these neural networks define who we are and what we do. Further, degradation or loss of neural networks is implicated in a vast array of neurodegenerative diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. So how does a healthy brain maintain its networks? And how could our understanding of the processes that maintain these networks be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases? These questions formed the basis of the 2015 Roche Hans Möller Doctoral scholarship winner Madeleine Kyrke-Smith’s PhD thesis.
One of the most important mechanisms in the formation and maintenance of neuronal networks is called long-term potentiation (LTP). LTP is a process by which functional connections between neurons, called synapses, are strengthened. Changes in the expression of specific genes have been shown to play a key role in LTP maintenance, and in maintaining the structure of neuronal networks. However, Madeleine wanted to extend this understanding by studying epigenetic enzymes which limit gene expression; enzymes called histone deacetylase 1 (HDAC1) and 2 (HDAC2).
Madeleine’s work found that both HDAC1 and HDAC2 were particularly active during the early stages of LTP, where the connections between neurons are initially strengthened. Further, when testing a potential therapeutic agent which inhibits HDAC1 and HDAC2, to alleviate their negative regulation of gene expression, Madeleine found LTP could be enhanced for over a week. However, HDAC1 and HDAC2 didn’t appear to be more active or involved in maintaining those connections over a longer timeframe. Her findings have identified a distinction between processes involved in the formation and maintenance of neuronal networks. This implies that therapeutic agents should be targeted to specific mechanisms at distinct time points, as enhancing the initial stages of network formation may not translate to the maintenance of those networks over time. This is important for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease as the effectiveness of HDAC1 and HDAC2 inhibitors may be limited to assisting in the formation but not maintenance of new memories, whereas it is in fact the maintenance rather than formation of memories that is severely impeded in this condition.
Batten disease is a group of inherited neurological disorders that usually present in previously healthy children, presenting with clinical symptoms similar to epilepsy, blindness, Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s disease. The exact changes that occur during disease are not fully understood, making it difficult to design therapeutic strategies. Currently there is no cure, although several preclinical and clinical trials are showing great promise for some disease forms. At the University of Otago, we use sheep and mice with naturally occurring mutations in two Batten disease associated genes, CLN5 and CLN6, to further our understanding of disease pathways, and to inform potential therapies.
We have identified a range of disease-associated changes in isolated sheep brain cells. These include: reduced cell size, altered morphology, reduced uptake of material by cells, defective waste removal, and reduced cellular acidity. These changes are subsequently used as markers of disease, and therapeutic strategies tested for success via their ability to ‘correct’ these markers.
Based on the success of correcting disease markers in isolated cell culture, two therapeutic trials have been initiated, and are nearing completion in the CLN6 mouse model. Firstly a small molecule drug aimed at enhancing cellular waste clearance, and secondly a gene therapy approach aimed at reintroducing gene products that are decreased in the disease. This research has shed light on the cellular basis of disease, and has the potential to substantially inform a cure for this fatal, debilitating illness.
New Zealand Society for Oncology
The New Zealand Society for Oncology (NZSO) is the national professional body for career scientists and clinicians working in the field of cancer. As a leading developer of innovative cancer medicines, it is appropriate that Roche Products NZ works closely with NZSO. Both Roche and NZSO recognise the importance of keeping up-to-date with international developments in cancer research and oncology clinical practice.
Roche is pleased to be supporting the Roche Translational Cancer Research Fellowship which is awarded each year at the NZSO annual conference. Created in 2016, this Fellowship is designed to support a 'rising star' research clinician or scientist to develop their skills, experience, and capability to deliver exceptional research results and improve outcomes for NZ cancer patients.
2016 Fellow ($30,000 award) – Dr Roslyn Kemp (University of Otago). Analysis of Complex Immune Populations in Colorectal Cancer – a Mass Cytometry Approach
In an article published by the University of Otago, Dr Kemp says: “The aim of our research is to deliver a direct clinical benefit to cancer patients in New Zealand, and this award brings us much closer to that goal. I am grateful to Roche and NZSO for their support of a true translational research team, and their willingness to encourage brand new ideas and technology.” Read the whole article here.