Abbott, NIH collaborate on neuroscience research
Abbott, NIH collaborate on neuroscience research

Abbott said Monday it will partner with the National Institutes of Health on research into neurostimulation therapies for brain disorders, contributing its neuromodulation technologies as part of the agreement.
The collaboration will tie into NIH’s BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, an ambitious multi-agency project launched under the Obama administration focused on speeding research in areas including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression and traumatic brain injury.
The company has struggled to gain traction in the neuromodulation business it acquired as part of the $25 billion buyout of St. Jude Medical in 2017.

Abbott's $25 billion acquisition of St. Jude Medical in 2017 greatly expanded its portfolio of cardiovascular devices, giving Abbott a neuromodulation business it did not have before. But the company has struggled to gain traction with the business which reported a first-quarter sales decline of 8.9%. CEO Miles White acknowledged the unit’s underperformance on the earnings call but predicted a turnaround as the company expands its sales force.

Elsewhere, neuromodulation has been producing double-digit sales growth for competitor Boston Scientific, prompting some analysts to suggest Abbott has sacrificed some market share. Medtronic, also a competitor in the space, saw constant-currency revenue growth in the mid-thirties in the latest quarter for its Intellis spinal cord stimulation device for pain treatment.

The BRAIN initiative aims to make strides in neuroscience research since it launched in 2013, similar to how the Human Genome Project transformed genomics. Collaborators include FDA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Science Foundation, and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, in addition to private partners.

Through 2018, NIH had granted more than 550 awards to researchers totaling over $950 million under the project. In November, a new round of awards totaling more than $220 million was announced. NIH is focusing some BRAIN efforts toward tackling the pain and opioid crisis. The initiative also gathers researchers each year at an investigators' meeting to discuss the latest scientific developments and opportunities for collaboration and research coordination.

In its work with Abbott, the NIH plans to investigate how to apply the company’s devices to a range of neurological and psychiatric conditions as well as chronic pain. Abbott’s neuromodulation technologies include deep brain stimulation, spinal cord stimulation, and dorsal root ganglion therapy. Specifically, research related to the NIH initiative will look at applications for chronic pain and progressive movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Abbott said.

"In addition to our own research efforts, including clinical and real-world studies, working together with world-class scientists at the NIH will help us further validate our neuromodulation therapies and explore new avenues where they may benefit patients affected by devastating neurological conditions," Keith Boettiger, vice president of neuromodulation at Abbott, said in a press release.