Boehringer in China R&D Pact, Job Cut Plans

05.12.2016 -

German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim and China Southeast University Institute of Life Sciences have started a joint research project to develop new treatment approaches for hearing loss through regeneration of hair cells from inner ear stem cells. The partners said the project will leverage the knowhow of the Chinese university’s Professor Renjie Chai – regarded as one of the worldwide leaders in the field of hearing loss – and Boehringer’s expertise in drug discovery and clinical development to develop of new treatment options for unmet medical needs.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) cited by the German pharmaceutical producer, more than 360 million people live with disabling hearing loss, including 32 million children under 15 years old. A “dramatic” increase in frequency of the condition is predicted as a result of worldwide aging populations. Patients with hearing loss usually have degeneration of inner ear hair cells, but as yet there is no effective treatment that could restore hearing loss.

The new German-Chinese research collaboration, which complements a recently initiated collaboration between Boehringer and Japan’s Kyoto University focused on utilizing findings on hair cell regeneration in birds, is an initiative of the German company’s newly established organization Research Beyond Borders (RBB).  The drugmaker said RBB is one of the pillars of its R&D strategy, complementing its five core therapeutic areas of cardiometabolic, respiratory, immunology, oncology and central nervous system. Currently, RBB focuses on the areas of regenerative medicine, the microbiome and new technologies such as gene therapy.

In the new project, teams will investigate key signaling pathways and proteins involved in regeneration in the inner ear to facilitate development of a drug discovery strategy that will target hair cell regeneration and ultimately address the unmet medical need in hearing loss via regenerative medicine approaches.  The mission is to explore emerging science and find innovation opportunities within and beyond the core therapeutic areas, Boehringer said, thus ensuring its early entry into the next big innovation waves of biomedical research. 

Explaining its reasons for focusing on Asia, the German player said the region “is rapidly becoming an innovation hot spot in biomedical research and has gained a leading position in regenerative medicine research.”  It added that it is looking for chances to expand its activities Asia through partnerships.

Research jobs trimmed in US

Meanwhile, Boehringer has confirmed an additional 240 job losses in the US since July of this year, after slashing more than 720 positions earlier. Most of the jobs have been trimmed in small molecule discovery research at corporate headquarters in Danbury, Connecticut. Along with the elimination of 60 other positions in Connecticut, 64 jobs have been cut from the salesforce nationwide.  More streamlining is planned in Europe.

“In order to continue to deliver on our research strategy, we must create a leaner global discovery research organization by consolidating small molecule discovery to two sites in Biberach, Germany, and Vienna, Austria”, the drugmaker said. The company plans to establish a new R&D group next year in Ridgefield, Connecticut, adding 35 new jobs. Here, the work will concentrate on cancer immunology discovery research. Boehringer is a relatively new player in oncology, having started its first R&D programs in this therapeutic category in 2006 and launching its first cancer therapy — Gilotrif (afatinib) for brain cancer — only three years ago.