BOSTON — March 28, 2012 — Joslin Diabetes Center and Ember Therapeutics, Inc. today announced an agreement aimed at utilizing “brown fat,” a type of fat that helps increase energy expenditure within the body, as a novel technique for managing obesity and diabetes. Joslin’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Ronald Kahn and other Joslin faculty, Drs. Yu-Hua Tseng and Aaron Cypess, have performed pioneering work in this field over the past several years, and were the first to show that a natural protein called BMP7 can help modulate the levels of brown fat.

“BMP7 is active in stimulating brown fat development in cells in culture and in test animals, so we are very excited in having this opportunity to determine its potential as a new therapeutic approach for obesity and type 2 diabetes,” said Dr Ronald Kahn.

Brown fat is a type of “good” fat which actually burns energy rather than storing it, which the more common white fat does.  The Joslin Diabetes Center team has identified and characterized molecular pathways that are critical to activating brown fat versus white fat. A 2008 Joslin study by Dr. Tseng and colleagues reported the discovery that a protein called BMP7 could induce brown fat formation. In 2009, Dr. Cypess and his team demonstrated for the first time that brown fat is metabolically active in adult humans. Previously, it had been thought that brown fat was present only in babies and children.  A further study in 2011 from Tseng’s group demonstrated that precursor cells in mice can be triggered by BMP7 and other inducers to make brown fat. 

Ember is a Boston-based company, launched by Third Rock Ventures in late 2011 to translate this groundbreaking biology in the emerging area of brown fat into a proprietary pipeline of treatments for metabolic disease, including type-2 diabetes and obesity.

"We are pleased to have the opportunity to further develop this BMP7 technology," said Louis Tartaglia, Ph.D., president and interim chief executive officer of Ember and partner at Third Rock Ventures, LLC. "We look forward to working closely with the Joslin team and advancing research into this promising protein as part of our brown fat program."

Under the agreement, Ember has the exclusive license to intellectual property from Joslin covering BMP7 technology, including a number of patented discoveries related to the use of the protein BMP7 to manipulate brown fat for the purpose of controlling glucose levels and managing weight. Based on these discoveries, Ember plans to advance the BMP7 program into human clinical trials and ultimately hopes to develop an approved drug product that would aid in controlling these metabolic disease conditions that have reached epidemic proportions.