Why should we jump right into bed with Big Pharma?

AVRUM SPIRA The researcher’s work in pulmonary disorders and cancers caught the attention of Janssen Research & Development, which invested more than $10 million in his lab.

Before he’s even discovered anything, BU researcher Avrum Spira is joining forces with the pharmaceutical powerhouse Janssen Research & Development and its Disease Interception Accelerator group. Some might say he’s jumping the gun. But he doesn’t have a problem with that. And neither do millions of Americans at risk for lung disease.

Spira—a professor of medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine, and bioinformatics—has spent his career at BU pursuing a better, and earlier, way to diagnose pulmonary disorders and cancers, primarily using biomarkers and genomic testing. Last year, under a $13.7 million Defense Department grant, his efforts to identify which members of the military will develop lung cancer and COPD caught the attention of Janssen, part of health care giant Johnson & Johnson. They are investing $10.1 million to collaborate with Spira’s lab with the hope that his discoveries—and potential therapies—could then apply to the population at large.

This relationship brings academia and industry together at an earlier stage. Spira and Janssen hope to gain insights in order to intercept diseases before they gain a foothold.

“So the science is now done with the application in mind at the earliest stages,” says Spira. “The paradigm shift is that industry is part of the process from the very beginning. It’s not science for science’s sake, but the idea that when we do find something, it’s then going to be clinically actionable. It’s a synergy of interests.”