Vertex Pharmaceuticals opens expanded San Diego research center with focus on cystic fibrosis

By Bradley J. Fikes

Vertex Pharmaceuticals opened its new San Diego research center Monday, starting a new chapter in a decades-long quest to not only treat but cure cystic fibrosis.

In 18 years, three drugs for the lung-ravaging disease have emerged from Vertex’s San Diego center and more are in the pipeline.

The first, Kalydeco, was approved in 2012. It is the first drug that treats the underlying cause of the disease. The second, Orkambi, was approved three years later. And the third, Symdeko, was approved in February.

These drugs can benefit about half of all patients with the incurable disease. In the next several years, Boston-based Vertex hopes its drugs can help nearly all patients live longer, healthier lives.

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic defect that allows a buildup of thick mucus in the lungs, and other internal organs. This mucus clogs airways and promotes the growth of bacteria. The average lifespan of patients is 37 years, up from 20 years in 1980. Treatments include antibiotics to fight lung infections and mucus-thinning drugs.

The new 170,000 square-foot building on Torrey Pines Mesa more than doubles the company’s space. The center includes cell culturing equipment to grow lung cells from patients, to be used for drug screening. A 4,000 square-foot incubator suite will serve outside collaborators.

Asides from cystic fibrosis, the staff will work on other serious diseases.

Among the speakers Monday morning was a veteran in the fight against cystic fibrosis: Jennifer Ferguson, who has two children with the disease, Ashton and Lola. Both her children are taking Vertex drugs, and both were present with her at the event.

With these drugs and the promise of better therapies ahead, she says Ashton and Lola have a good chance of growing up and leading their own lives. She urged all Vertex employees to think of themselves as part of a team to cure the disease.

Ferguson, of San Diego, found out about the work from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The foundation had invested $30 million in startup Aurora Biosciences to find therapies.

In 2001, Vertex purchased Aurora for $592 million in stock, the same year Ashton was diagnosed. The research went on under Vertex, and Ferguson became quite familiar with the research team.

“The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation asked me to come speak, to show them what it’s like to have a little child with CF,” she said. “So I came here about 17 years ago with him as a 6-month-old.”

At that time, many cystic fibrosis patients never reached adulthood.

“I had a hard time keeping it together,” Ferguson told the audience of that long-ago visit.

“But I looked in the staff’s faces — and some of you are still here — and I thought, I’m going to put my faith and trust in your hands, in your brains. And I was able to let go of my worry, because you were on the case.”

Ferguson started visiting every few years to check on what progress was being made, first with Ashton, and later including Lola. She also raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Both her children have shown improvement since starting the Vertex drugs, Ferguson said. But they still need to go through a daily regimen of clearing out their lungs.

From medications, the research frontier has advanced to investigations into a cure. That means fixing the genetic defect, which can come in several variations, inside living patients.

That cure might come from the hot new gene editing technology called CRISR. In 2015, Vertex allied with startup CRISPR Therapeutics to develop curative therapies.

This post was originally published on The San Diego Union-Tribune

Vertex Employees Donate $1M to CF and Other Communities via Matching Gift Program

By Carolina Henriques

Vertex Pharmaceuticals employees have raised more million $1 million  using  the Vertex Foundation‘s matching gift program in a show of commitment to causes that include the cystic fibrosis (CF) community, a company press release states.

The dollar-for-dollar matching gift program is being run through the nonprofit Vertex Foundation, established by the company in November 2017 as part of it’s charitable giving goal of donating $500 million to qualified nonprofits and other causes worldwide over 10 years.

To date, more than 500 Vertex employees have used the program to support 753 charities around the globe working to advance work in areas that include healthcare, human services, education, and disaster relief.

Vertex’s charitable commitment has four primary goals: supporting CF patients and caregivers worldwide, including enabling access to Vertex’s medicines; helping underserved students and young women with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education; supporting young doctors and scientists; and strengthening and fostering innovation in local communities through health and wellness programs.

“Giving back is in our DNA at Vertex, and our employees have a long history of going the extra mile to improve the lives of patients, students and their neighbors,” Jeffrey Leiden, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Vertex, said in the release. “I’m proud that The Vertex Foundation is able to help extend the impact of our employees’ giving and look forward to seeing the reach of these investments in the causes they care about most.”

Also as part of its 10-year commitment, Vertex awarded $400,000 in scholarships to eligible CF patients and their family members in May as part of its second “All in for CF” scholarship program. In total, 80 scholarships worth $5,000 each were awarded for the upcoming academic year.

Vertex, which specializes in cystic fibrosis, has three approved CF therapies: Kalydeco (ivacaftor), Orkambi (lumacaftor/ivacaftor), and Symdeko (tezacaftor/ivacaftor).

The company is also testing potential triple combination treatments for CF.

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How to Beat Brain Fog

By Wendy Caroline

As I sat down to write my column for this week, a massive wave of writer’s block hit me. This has been plaguing me for a while. Great timing, right?!

I started five different column pieces, each of which I would get a solid start on, and then nothing. I stopped understanding where the piece was going and didn’t like any of the words that I was writing. A few years ago, I started developing chronic fatigue. It started slowly, then quickly snowballed. In the past year, it has developed into brain fog. Very frustrating. I love using my brain for writing, reading, problem-solving, and critical thinking. It increasingly feels like cystic fibrosis is taking all these parts of my personality away from me. So here I am today, compiling a list of some tips and tricks that I use to combat brain fog and feel a little more like myself.

1. Don’t force it.

I can’t tell you how many times I have blocked my own brain by trying to force my way through brain fog. “Just do it.” How many times have we heard that? Unfortunately, at least for me, if I “just do it” and try to force myself to work through the brain fog, it just puts up more blocks. Then I get frustrated, and all I can think about is how I can’t think. It just spirals from there.

Cool, so how do you get past brain fog and still make your deadlines (because if you’re forcing it, that’s often why)? Be ahead of the game. I am guilty of this not being a natural instinct. In fact, I’m still learning how to do this. I used to be a procrastinator. I would thrive under the stress. My brain fog does not. Now I start writing and drafting at least a week before.

2. Get inspired.

One of the best ways to get inspired is to look to others. CF News Today columnist Brad Dell’s latest piece about brain fog directly inspired this post. It got me thinking about my own experience with brain fog, and how I have been insanely frustrated by its hold on my life. Find a piece of other people’s lives or the world around you that makes you think about your own. Capture it and go. I find that making a note of these inspirations in a note-taking app on my phone really helps because brain fog causes forgetfulness.

2. Create the mood.

Ditch the phone and whatever other fancy gizmos that cause a distraction. Find the type of environment that makes you feel inspired and ready to work. For me, that’s open space with lots of natural light and structured seating.

Next, put on some music — music that is going to make you focus and productive. My go-to is this Classical Essentials playlist on shuffle. This helps me drown out enough thoughts that I won’t get distracted without drowning out the thoughts that I need to work. Whatever you listen to, just make sure it doesn’t have words.

It’s also important to get your brain in the right mood. My brain fixates on chores and tasks that need doing, so I always make sure to get those done before I sit down to write. Also yoga and meditation, that’s some great stuff.

4. Let it flow.

A friend of mine gave me this very useful tip. Just let the words flow out of you, even if you don’t like them. When I use this technique, I have to write everything my heart desires and then walk away. Don’t reread it right then. You will get frustrated. Instead, write all you can and come back to it after you’ve had a solid break. For me, this is usually the next day. Your rough work can have a really good base but just needs to be re-worked.

I know that these tips and tricks are focused on writing, but I use the general ideas in all aspects of my life. Whether it is work, family, friends, or hobbies, brain fog can affect every aspect of your life. It’s one of the reasons that I haven’t been very active on any of my social media platforms — Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and even my blog. As my brain fog developed into almost a daily issue, I took a step back and prioritized what I needed to focus on first. I truly believe that as these steps of beating brain fog become a habit, I will be able to handle more. Hopefully, you’ll see me around the internet again real soon.

» Find me on the internet at The Living, Breathing Wendy «

This article was originally published on CF News Today.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

PBS’s Documentary ‘The Gene Doctors’ Arrives Amid A Gene Therapy Boom

Molly Troxel, who has an inherited degenerative eye disease, regained some vision after being treated with Spark’s experimental gene therapy, Luxturna. (Photo courtesy of PBS.)

This month, PBS is airing a documentary called The Gene Doctors that spotlights several emerging gene therapies, Continue reading PBS’s Documentary ‘The Gene Doctors’ Arrives Amid A Gene Therapy Boom

Vertex Plans To Eradicate Cystic Fibrosis, And Go From There

Vertex Pharmaceuticals: Going From ‘Crisis’ To Blockbuster

Jeffrey Leiden, chief executive for Vertex Pharmaceuticals, plans to eradicate cystic fibrosis. (Vertex) Continue reading Vertex Plans To Eradicate Cystic Fibrosis, And Go From There