UW joins industry-academia alliance to accelerate research in neuroscience

An image of neurons under a microscope

Microscopy image showing the cytoskeleton within neurons, which are differentiating from induced pluripotent stem cells.UC San Francisco

The University of Washington has joined the Alliance for Therapies in Neuroscience (ATN), a long-term research partnership between academia and industry geared to transform the fight against brain diseases and disorders of the central nervous system.

Launched in 2021 by the University of California, San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Genentech – a member of the Roche group – and Roche Holding AG, the ATN seeks to accelerate the development of new therapies for a broad range of brain and central nervous system conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, depression and psychiatric disorders. As part of the ATN, Genentech and Roche committed up to $53 million over 10 years for research at the ATN’s participating academic institutions, a collaboration that is unique for both its duration and the breadth of its ambitions.

“The Alliance for Therapies in Neuroscience is a new and transformative template for research and academia to partner, and it is an ideal collaboration for the University of Washington,” said Tom Daniel, the Emeritus Joan and Richard Komen Endowed Chair and professor of biology at the UW and incoming CEO of the Washington Research Foundation, who led efforts to join the ATN. “Scientists at the UW will be integrated with academic and industry partners in a way that has simply never been done before. And the UW will bring its cross-disciplinary strengths and expertise in neuroscience – which span medicine, engineering and basic and clinical research – to address the urgent need for new therapies, remedies and treatments in neurological diseases and disorders.”

The new alliance builds on an existing academic partnership. In 2019, the UW, UCSF and UC Berkeley formed the Weill Neurohub, a $106-million, multidisciplinary endeavor supported by the Weill Family Foundation to speed discovery and innovation across neurological and psychiatric disorders, including basic research, technology development and patient care. With the UW’s accession to the ATN, scientists at all three Weill Neurohub institutions can now access this novel pipeline to channel academic discoveries toward new therapies and treatments.

“Pairing academic researchers with industry partners early in the research process will accelerate the transformation of academic research into clinical applications,” said Dr. Stephen Hauser, the Robert A. Fishman Distinguished Professor of Neurology at UCSF and director of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “And this long-term, 10-year commitment from Genentech and Roche means that researchers at UCSF, UC Berkeley and now the UW will benefit from years-long, close collaborations with industry. It is a type of partnership that hasn’t been seen before in academic or industry research.”

“Membership of the UW in ATN fully leverages the vision that we and the Weills have for the Weill Neurohub,” said Ehud Isacoff, the Evan Rausch Chair in Neuroscience at UC Berkeley and director of the Berkeley Brain Initiative. “This collaboration with Roche and Genentech – world leaders in pharma and biotech – opens powerful new directions for Weill Neurohub researchers, with crucial resources and proven track records of bringing new treatments to patients and families.”

Teams of scientists at ATN institutions will drive efforts to profile the progression of disease, identify new targets for therapies and model their effectiveness. Existing organizational infrastructure within the Weill Neurohub will serve to coordinate the expanded ATN efforts. In addition to Daniel, the other UW leader within the Weill Neurohub and the ATN is Dr. Jürgen Unützer, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

ATN endeavors are intended to meet current demands in neurological disease research and treatment, as well as lay the groundwork for future innovations in understanding and treating nervous system disorders.

“The ATN is focusing on pressing needs in neurological disorders across the board: not just therapies to treat conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, but also methods to diagnose them at early stages, as well as understand them at the cellular and molecular level,” said Jon-Eric VanLeeuwen, director of strategic initiatives at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

The UW brings a variety of strengths to the ATN, according to Daniel. Neuroscience expertise at the UW spans clinical trials, cell and molecular studies, computational modeling and even research into artificial intelligence. Neuroscientists are based across the UW’s STEM schools and colleges, including the School of Medicine, the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Engineering. UW researchers have a strong track record of innovative cross-institutional collaborations in neuroscience with scientists across the region, including at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and the Allen Institute, which they can also draw on for ATN research.

“Through the ATN, all partners will bring their best and brightest to bear on these ‘boiling hot,’ challenging problems in neuroscience,” said Daniel.

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