Understanding and innovating in immunology

Listen to this article on the DDW Podcast:

Chiedzo Mpofu, Vice President, Global Medical Affairs Head, Immunology, at AbbVie, talks to Lu Rahman about our understanding of auto-immune disease and how AbbVie is continuing to innovate in this field.

“Immune mediated diseases are a diverse group of conditions that share common inflammatory pathways,” says Chiedzo Mpofu, Vice President, Global Medical Affairs Head, Immunology, at AbbVie. “The inflammation can involve one or many of the diverse organs within the body, including blood vessels (arteritis), joints (rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis), skin (atopic dermatitis and psoriasis), parts of the digestive tract (inflammatory bowel disease), eyes (uveitis), or kidneys, and many other systems. Genetics may present increased risk factors as various immune mediated diseases may co-exist within the same person and within the same family.” Mpofu adds that some environmental impacts such as infection, diet, smoking or past injury, may play a role in some of these diseases.

Extending innovation

AbbVie has been pushing innovation in this area and boasts an extensive immunology portfolio aimed at delivering compelling benefits to more patients around the world.

“The company has been helping raise the bar in the management of immune-mediated diseases for nearly a quarter-century,” reveals Mpofu. “Going beyond the science, we work tirelessly with the goal of advancing standards of care for the patients who need it most. We are investing in ensuring understanding of the medical unmet needs that many patients continue to face. We partner with healthcare providers to advocate for care approaches that may offer the possibility of better results for patients and are working toward understanding barriers to targeted treatment approaches.”

The business also continues to invest in studies to better understand treatment patterns, the evolving standards of care, unmet needs, and real-world treatment outcomes. AbbVie’s aim is to extend the boundaries of science through the depth and breadth of its immunology pipeline.

“We are exploring a broad set of molecules, informed by biomarkers and molecular profiling of both the patients and the diseases themselves. This pipeline is built on technology platforms that can form dual mechanisms, through novel approaches such as antibody drug conjugate (ADC) technology,” says Mpofu who believes that the company is a pioneer in developing ADCs for use in immune disease.

Facing challenges

Todays’ immunology and heterogenous diseases field faces a range of challenges – this is something that Mpofu recognises.

“Immunology is a vast field that includes many very different diseases, all treated by different specialists, which affect patients of all ages, races, genders, socio-economic status, and countries. The size of this area of medicine itself creates a challenge.” The company is addressing these challenges in several ways.

“Innovation is embedded at all stages of our development programmes to help drive better decision-making and accelerate delivery of transformative care,” explains Mpofu. “These programmes are focused on getting answers earlier and faster through interim analyses, standard of care comparators, and synthetic placebo studies, as well as improved decision making through biomarkers, specific patient cohorts in Phase II trials, parallel indication evaluations and centre of excellence proof of concept studies. We design our trials in ways that are supported by the disease epidemiology so that the patients studied in the trials represent the diversity of populations with highest unmet needs. We also have efforts to support more inclusive clinical study protocols, enabling more under-represented and diverse patient populations to volunteer for our clinical trials.”

While solving the biggest health challenges requires sophisticated teamwork – and those teams are all made up of individuals – what makes AbbVie’s vision possible are the individuals who bring diverse knowledge, perspectives, and experiences to co-create across every level of the organisation and across multiple therapeutic areas. “We seek to help more people in more countries, living with more varied immune mediated diseases than ever before,” says Mpofu. “AbbVie invests a great deal to develop our people to become leaders in their respective fields. We continually evolve our organisation to enhance innovative thinking, and ways of working, ensuring the best ideas come forward to advance our efforts in having a remarkable impact on the lives of patients.”

Areas of opportunity

According to Mpofu, the number of immune-mediated diseases is as vast as the diversity of the patients who are impacted by them. “AbbVie is focused on expanding its discovery efforts to diseases where there are little to no advanced therapeutic options. This effort includes our research in giant cell arteritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, systemic lupus erythematosus, and Takayasu arteritis,” she says.

Looking ahead

“From the moment you take the hand of someone with rheumatoid arthritis, or when you listen to the hope in the voice of a patient managing atopic dermatitis, or you visit a parent trying to ease the pain of a child enduring an inflammatory bowel disease, you recognise that the field of immunology is more than the attempt to control a person’s immune system. Healthcare providers are engaged in helping people to get their lives back. We are committed to supporting doctors, patients and care-givers in that effort. In close collaboration with the immunology community, we will continue to advocate for care paradigms that support better patient outcomes. We will also continue to embed the patient voice in our efforts to address patients’ unmet needs and to advance healthcare in this and other critical areas of medicine,” Mpofu adds.

Volume 23, Issue 2 – Spring 2022

About the author:

Chiedzo Mpofu is responsible for global medical affairs for AbbVie’s industry-leading immunology portfolio. She is a board-certified gastroenterologist and general internist, and prior to her career in pharmaceuticals, she worked for 13 years in clinical practice and academic research. Dr. Mpofu has vast experience in creating and executing medical affairs strategies, and across pharmaceutical product development.

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