Today, PhRMA released a new data showcasing that there are more than 300 medicines in development focused on treating skin diseases, including 70 for skin cancer and 67 for psoriasis. To shed light on the incredible work being done in this space, we’re sharing the story of Dr. Jay Fine, vice president and global head of immunology and respiratory diseases at Boehringer Ingelheim, who leads a team of scientists seeking new and improved therapies for psoriatic diseases and other chronic inflammatory conditions.
Harboring a fascination with biology that dates back to elementary school, Dr. Jay Fine says his path to biopharmaceutical research was more or less inevitable. An uncle who worked to treat rare pediatric diseases spurred Dr. Fine’s interest in tackling unmet medical needs, while a love for science remained a driving force throughout university.
Graduate research and post-doctoral work at the National Institutes of Health led to a career in immunology, which today includes examining treatments for psoriasis and other autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. Currently, Dr. Fine works as the vice president and global head of immunology and respiratory diseases at Boehringer Ingelheim (BI).
BI’s research approach leverages commonalities in the biology of inflammatory skin, intestinal and lung conditions to reveal new therapeutic concepts with significant potential to address critical unmet medical needs associated with these disorders.
One such disease is Generalized Pustular Psoriasis (GPP), a rare skin condition that – unlike the more common form of psoriasis characterized by plaques – causes flare-ups of painful blisters, called “pustules,” all over the body along with flu-like symptoms. Caused by an over-exuberant immune system, the pustules are filled with activated white blood cells. Although this does not indicate the presence of an infection, nor is it contagious, a flare-up can be life-threatening and occur without warning, leaving the patient bedridden and unable to complete normal activities.
In some cases, the condition can be helped by certain medicines. However, these treatments are minimally effective, and there is no known cure for GPP. The BI team is carefully profiling this disease to pinpoint the causes of the immune system malfunctions that cause flare-ups, providing hope to patients facing this devastating condition.
The Driving Force
Dr. Fine traces his motivation back to both science and the people that surround him. Each day starts by catching up on the latest discoveries about the inner workings of the immune system and their links to disease as well as team meetings to stay in touch with the progress being made by BI scientists in the laboratory.
“Science is about the data and technologies, but it’s also about people,” he says. “You’re working in teams, and you’re working with people who are motivated and possess a great deal of purpose. Innovation doesn’t happen without all those components.”
Ultimately, however, it’s patients that drive progress at BI.
“When you’re pursuing breakthrough science to help patients, every day is above average,” Dr. Fine says. “Whether there are failures or successes, you’re always learning something.”
Challenges, Chance and Looking Forward
Due to its low incidence rate, there are currently no effective treatments for GPP. However, Dr. Fine and his team are researching new molecules and immune system pathways that lead to therapies to prevent and treat the horrible flare-ups that occur without warning. Recent advances in the understanding of biomarkers are providing researchers greater insights into the causes of psoriasis. While a cure remains a challenge, Dr. Fine looks toward the future with a strong sense of hope.
Dr. Fine’s team is also pursuing discoveries to identify potential breakthrough therapies for other disease areas, such as inflammatory bowel diseases and fibrotic lung conditions. This approach – termed translational medicine, through which science is transformed into real-world solutions for patients – provides further encouragement to stay focused on the end goal of improving patients’ lives.
“I tell every patient I meet with the same thing,” Dr. Fine says. “We are with you. We are fighting for you. And we won’t forget you.”
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