Scripps Florida Creates Equine Therapeutics Center

In an effort to hasten the development of a new generation of treatments for a range of equine diseases and disorders that could also have the potential to be applied to human patients, the Florida campus of the Scripps Research Institute and the Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University plan to establish the Center for Novel Equine Therapeutics.

Plans for the new venture were formally announced at a seminar and reception on Feb. 16 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, with the honorary chairs being respected horse owners and philanthropists John and Leslie Malone.

Heading up the new equine center will be Paul Robbins, a Scripps professor, and Wayne McIlwraith, a University Distinguished Professor and Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Orthopaedics at CSU.

“This is an opportunity not only to join two great scientific institutions, but to accelerate the translational possibilities that will benefit both horses and people,” Robbins said. “The strengths of the exceptional basic and applied research at CSU, plus our unique ability to identify potential therapeutic compounds, makes this new venture something that can really make a difference.”

The new combined venture will help advance research efforts, McIlwraith said.

“We’ve gone through quite a transformation in recent years, with new insights into human medicine from equine studies,” he said. “At Colorado State, we’ve done pioneering work in gene therapy and new biologic therapies in the horse, particularly stem cell therapies for equine musculoskeletal disease.”

The merging of equine and human research has its origins in a disease that was defined in 1938. Equine osteoarthritis, a disease that affects a significant percent of the horse population, young as well as old, is so similar to what happens in humans that it is considered a model for studying the disease.

Some studies have estimated that as much as 60 percent of lameness in horses is due to osteoarthritis, a condition that, like its human equivalent, remains poorly defined.

Robbins and Chris Evans of the Mayo Clinic, both of whom were at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, assisted Dave Frisbie and McIlwraith at CSU in the first ventures into treating osteoarthritis in the horse with a gene therapy. Robbins and Evans provided the vector for the study at CSU, which used an interleukin-1 receptor antagonist.

“This was the first study to show clinical improvement in the diseases as a result of gene therapy,” Robbins said.

Three years after that, the group collaborated again in a second study at CSU, in which adding a growth factor using the same gene therapy vector enhanced articular cartilage repair.

This is the kind of work that is envisaged at the new center.

“The key to the new center is that, along with basic research on both animals and humans, we anticipate moving the most promising compounds to the market as quickly as possible,” Robbins said. “The Scripps Research Institute and the CSU Orthopaedic Research Center are entrepreneurial institutions, and we want to build on that foundation.”

A recent gift of $42.5 million from John and Leslie Malone, with subsequent additional matching dollars from another donor, is enabling the building of the Institute of Biological Translational Therapies at CSU, which is a further evolution of the Orthopaedic Research Center. The institute will work to develop animal treatments believed to have crossover potential for helping human patients.

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