LA JOLLA INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY &
President: Mitchell Kronenberg.
Chairman of the board: John E. Major.
Annual budget: $47 million.
No. of local employees: 328.
Headquarters: La Jolla.
Year founded: 1988.
Mission of organization: Combating diseases,
including type 1 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, through the
study of the immune system.
Computer modeling could be giving some researchers a head start
on how to better proceed in drug development.
Thats according to a local physician-scientist, who says a new
computer model that he studied may lead to researchers developing
treatments for type 1 (juvenile) diabetes, and underscores the
growing use of bioinformatics in medical research. Bioinformatics
refers to the application of statistics and computer science to
analyze biological information.
Findings published in the December issue of the scientific
journal Diabetes highlight the work of a team from the La Jolla
Institute for Allergy & Immunology, which has an active
bioinformatics effort as part of its business operation.
Led by Dr. Matthias von Herrath, a type 1 diabetes researcher
for the institute, studies described in the scientific journal
tested the computer models ability to predict an experiment on
nasal insulin use and then confirmed those results in the lab.
Computer modeling allows researchers to pre-test theories, so that
the more time-intensive and costly process of laboratory testing
can be focused on the most promising therapeutic strategies, said
Since laboratory studies can cost hundreds of thousands of
dollars, and early stage human clinical trials can cost $10 million
or more, predicting the right conditions to try is important, added
von Herrath, director of the La Jolla Institutes Type 1 Diabetes
Research Center, where the studies were conducted.
Predicting Clinical Outcomes
Entelos Inc., a Foster City life sciences company specializing
in predictive technologies, developed the software for the
It sounds very esoteric, but we have built these massive
computer models based on everything thats known and published on
these therapeutics (such as diabetes), said David Goggin, chief
financial officer for the company. We have software that is highly
predictive of clinical outcomes.
The research support group of the American Diabetes Association
funded the work of the softwares development to provide a new tool
for enhancing the speed and effectiveness of type 1 diabetes
research. The dollar amount was not available by last weeks
More than 400,000 children worldwide suffer from type 1
diabetes, a chronic disease that can lead to severe complications
such as blindness, cardiovascular disease, renal disease, coma or
even death, according to the ADA.
But research efforts arent just limited to diabetes.
A comprehensive database, developed by the La Jolla Institute
under a $25 million contract with the National Institutes of
Health, enables scientists worldwide to share research information
on allergies, infectious and autoimmune diseases. It was created to
accelerate vaccine development on a global scale. Known as the
Immune Epitope Database, or IEDB, it was launched in 2006 and is
freely available to researchers at iedb.org.
Guiding Research Efforts
Several local companies have used the database to help guide
research, according to an institute spokeswoman. They include VLP
Biotech Inc., an early stage biotechnology company developing
vaccine therapies for the treatment of infectious diseases and
other medical disorders; and PaxVax Inc., which is working on an
oral flu vaccine.
The La Jolla Institutes Alessandro Sette and Bjoern Peters, who
are Ph.D.s, experts in bioinformatics and lead scientists on the
database, say the IEDB reflects the scientific communitys growing
interest in using bioinformatics to advance research efforts.
Bioinformatics is playing an increasingly important role in
research efforts worldwide, said Peters, who uses the database in
his studies of infectious diseases.
Sette uses bioinformatics in his laboratory to predict immune
responses to complex pathogens.
With bioinformatics, the computer does the screening based on
very complex mathematical algorithms. And it can do it in much less
time and at much less expense than doing the testing in the lab, he
said. Its a powerful tool that is emerging as a key asset in the
development of diagnostic tools and, ultimately, vaccines.