Just a few years ago, the folks at BG Medicine couldn't have told you much about cardiovascular disease risk — which makes it that much more significant that the company just announced a pioneering deal with the Framingham Heart Study to discover and validate biomarkers for early detection of patients at risk of a heart attack.
"The prediction of first heart attacks is the biggest unmet medical need in the [developed] world," says Pieter Muntendam, CEO of BG Medicine, who steered his company in this direction starting a couple of years ago. "There's no doubt that you can treat these people, if you could only find these people in the month, the year before their first heart attack."
When Muntendam was first getting his footing in the cardiovascular realm, he met with various pharmaceutical companies as well as Philips, which was brought in to discuss imaging approaches to identifying patients at risk. The result of those talks was the formation of the HRP Initiative (HRP is short for "high-risk plaque"), founded by BG Medicine along with Merck, AstraZeneca, Philips, Takeda, and Abbott. The initiative aims to fund joint research projects designed to identify promising biomarkers.
The initiative also got the attention of the Framingham Heart Study, a 60-year-old longitudinal study that has enrolled more than 9,000 participants and is run by Boston University. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which funds the Framingham study, signed the company on for a cooperative research and development agreement.
The research project, called the Systems Approach to Biomarker Research in Cardiovascular Disease, teams BG Medicine, NHLBI, and the Framingham study in a series of biomarker studies focused on heart disease and predictors of first heart attack. "We do this in collaboration with people who have studied cardiovascular risks longer and more than anyone else," Muntendam says.
The search will focus on protein and metabolite markers, Muntendam says, since much of cardiac disease is about lifestyle rather than genetics. BG Medicine has performed proteomic and metabolomic studies in previous research projects — generally measuring upward of 1,000 analytes in blood — and is now trying to sift out the biomarkers that show a consistent signal for inflamed plaque. "We're trying to find a plasma-level readout," Muntendam says.