Innovation & Enterprise


Servier and UCL collaborate in fight against immune-inflammatory diseases

10 December 2019

Accelerating the discovery of new treatments for immune-inflammatory diseases, including lupus and systemic sclerosis, is the focus of a new strategic research collaboration between Servier and UCL.

Scientist working in a lab

Under an initial two-year agreement, Servier, an independent international pharmaceutical company, will share scientific knowledge and support with two UCL-led research projects. These projects are investigating which pathways are pathologically altered in people with lupus, and how systemic sclerosis develops. 

By better understanding the mechanisms behind each disease, the teams hope to develop much-needed new drugs and therapeutic approaches to treat the conditions.

Understanding lupus and systemic sclerosis

Lupus affects approximately 100 in 100,000 people in UK and between 3 and 200 in 100,000 people globally. It’s a poorly understood disease and occurs when the body's immune system attacks tissues and organs, causing inflammation that can damage any part of the body, potentially leading to organ failure.

Professor Derek Gilroy, Chair of Experimental Inflammation and Pharmacology (UCL Medicine), said: “We know how the body’s immune system switches off some functions after it’s responded to bouts of infection or experienced an injury. We think that these internal checkpoints are altered in people who have chronic inflammatory diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer. 

My team is looking forward to combining expertise and resources with Servier to try to understand how the underlying immune system in patients with a disease like lupus fails to resolve, giving rise to the debilitating symptoms and shortened life span associated with this disease.”

Systemic sclerosis, also known as scleroderma, is a rare chronic disease thought to affect up to 2.5 million people worldwide. It’s characterised by thickening and scarring of connective tissue throughout the body, including in the skin, joints and internal organs. 

To date, its cause is unknown but scientists, including Professors Christopher Denton and David Abraham (both UCL Medicine), are leading teams researching the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms of the disease. 

“Scleroderma is a disease that leads to scarring and fibrosis in many organs, with limited treatments available. This collaboration will help define the potential of new treatment approaches that could have long-term impact in scleroderma but also in many other diseases where scarring and blood vessel damage occur,” said Professor Denton. 

Collaborating to develop new treatments

“Collaboration with academia is one of the main levers of our strategy to contribute to research to accelerate the discovery and development of innovative treatments for patients. The UCL team we’re working with have considerable expertise in both lupus and systemic sclerosis, and they’re based at one of the top institutions for medical and health research globally,” said Dr Claude Bertrand, Executive Vice-President Research & Development at Servier. 

Professor Robert Kleta, Director of the UCL Division of Medicine, added: “As one of the largest concentrations of biomedical scientists in Europe, in one of the world's leading universities, our research aims to understand the basis of disease, and to develop better diagnostics and treatments. The division already has a track record of discovery in immune-inflammatory diseases, for example pioneering B cell depletion therapy (rituximab) to treat rheumatoid arthritis. This exciting new partnership with Servier will build upon this expertise and I greatly look forward to the new advances that will result.”

Dr Philippe Moingeon, Head of Servier Center for Therapeutic Innovation in Immuno-Inflammatory diseases, added: “We’re looking forward to creating synergies between Servier and UCL scientific expertise, with the aim of a successful and fast translation into therapeutic solutions for the benefit of patients suffering from lupus and systemic sclerosis.” 

A model for further collaboration

UCL Innovation & Enterprise actively engages partners outside of academia, including in the pharmaceutical sector, with the aim of developing long-term strategic relationships.

Dr Celia Caulcott, UCL Vice-Provost (Enterprise), said: “The major health challenges of the 21st century involve conditions with complex, multifaceted pathology and making progress will absolutely require collaboration between the best research minds in universities and our innovative partners in industry. The immune-inflammatory diseases are an excellent case in point, and I’m excited and hopeful about the future potential of this strategic research collaboration between UCL and Servier.

I believe it will be a model for further collaboration between clinical academic research and industry for a whole host of therapeutic areas.”


Photo by Alejandro Walter Salinas Lopez © UCL