Innovation in Action

Transformative science is only the first part of the innovation equation. Meet the people & programs that changed the landscape of four diseases.

A Legacy of Innovation

To change how difficult diseases are treated, we must keep our eyes locked on the possibilities ahead. But it’s equally important to occasionally look back, to contextualize successes and learn from mistakes; to examine the efforts that turned the unthinkable into reality.

Join us in exploring the foundational stories of our work – not just the scientific achievements, but all the accompanying innovations that happened along the way.

Rebels in Cancer Research

AbbVie researchers Andrew Petros and Phil Hajduk are rebels, but you might not know it to look at them.

Cancer cells differ from healthy cells in several ways; key among them is their ability to avoid death. This resistance to death was a well-known hallmark of cancer cells. However, Petros and Hajduk had an idea.

As researchers who spent their careers – 29 years and 19 years, respectively – developing medicines at AbbVie, they were trained to follow the rules and principles of science: ideas that are known to be true, until someone finds a way to prove them wrong.

But while science takes discipline, it also takes the ability to see where rules need to be challenged – or even broken – on the path to pioneering research. Instead of backing down, the team waded into the unknown and disproved some widely held scientific beliefs in the process.

See how AbbVie scientists Petros and Hajduk attempted to defy the rules of science to help patients.

Then and Now: A Simple Research Question that Would Change Rheumatoid Arthritis

Years ago at the AbbVie’s research center in Germany, scientists were studying a protein in the body called Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha, or TNFα. In acute conditions like septic shock, TNFα levels were extremely high; the body was sending extra TNFα to fight the infection.

What they were surprised to learn was that the protein was also prevalent in people with rheumatoid arthritis. These people didn't have infections, so why were their levels of TNFα so high?

Jochen Salfeld, vice president, global biologics discovery and distinguished research fellow, AbbVie, who led the Massachusetts team at the time, explains:

On the Path to Discovery

But as Jochen’s team discovered the possibilities of TNFα inhibition, they knew developing a medicine went far beyond a mechanism of action.

“We did not want to develop ‘just’ a medicine, but a best-in-class therapeutic that would change patients’ lives,” Salfeld says. “We were very interested in not just treating the disease, but coming up with a convenient delivery system for the patient as well."

Discover how Jochen and his team helped change the reality of rheumatoid arthritis from damage control to taking control.

Hepatitis C: Defying Dogma

Viruses can't be cured.

Approximately 30 years after researchers first identified the hepatitis C virus, the majority of those infected with the disease can achieve a virologic cure,* and the World Health Organization has now set a goal for elimination of HCV as a public health threat for the year 2030 – less than twelve years from now.

A History of Hepatitis C

“The dogma was, it just wasn’t possible,” says Andreas Pangerl, senior medical director, hepatology, AbbVie. But here he sits, discussing what it will take to eliminate a viral disease, hepatitis C (HCV), on a global scale.

On the surface, the problem of elimination seems straightforward. There’s a known disease, a simple way to diagnose it, and effective treatments. But HCV can be asymptomatic for years. In other words, HCV involves an unaware, infected population that may not have access to or trust for the medical establishment.

Learn how Pangerl is working with the AbbVie’s health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) scientists to think out of the box to find the “missing millions” of people infected with undiagnosed or untreated HCV.

*In HCV, cure means that the virus is undetectable 12 weeks or more after completing treatment. This is also known as "sustained virologic response" or SVR.

Endometriosis: Listening Up

If you want to know what life with endometriosis is like, find a group of 10 women and ask. At least one of them will be able to tell you all about it.

“There’s been a neglect of women in this area,” says Marianne Sutcliffe, vice president, women’s health, AbbVie. “There hasn’t been enough investment or emphasis on endometriosis, and there’s not the support that these women need.”

Endometriosis occurs when tissue that acts a lot like the lining of the uterus—called endometrium—starts growing outside of the uterus. This tissue forms lesions or implants that attach to the ovaries, bladder, fallopian tubes, bowel and other areas near the uterus, causing inflammation and severe pelvic pain, pain with periods, and pain during intercourse.

One of the first steps in designing a clinical program for a new medication is developing the endpoints – the primary outcomes measured by a clinical trial, used to show the value the medication might bring to patients, physicians and other stakeholders. But developing endpoints for a medication used to treat endometriosis is a different animal altogether.

Take a peek at how a group of scientists, physicians, clinical trial specialists and more have been working to change the status quo for endometriosis and related conditions.