Metabolic in trans-Tasman licensing, research deal

By Tanya Hollis
Wednesday, 27 March, 2002

Metabolic Pharmaceuticals (ASX: MBP) has announced a trans-Tasman licensing deal and research collaboration to develop a new osteoporosis treatment.

The listed Melbourne company, which already has research interests in obesity and diabetes, said the latest deal complemented its development program's current focus on hormone fragments.

Under the terms of the agreement, Metabolic will join New Zealand's Auckland UniServices Limited in the development two lead osteoporosis compounds discovered by scientists at the University of Auckland.

The Aussie company will have exclusive worldwide licensing rights to the compounds - dubbed MBPO250 and MBPO260 - in a market estimated to be worth up to US$9 billion.

UniServices, the university's intellectual property manager, will receive milestone payments and a royalty from Metabolic in return for the licensing rights.

Metabolic chief executive officer Dr Chris Belyea said the target compounds were the result of several year of highly original research.

"Our assessment from the animal studies performed by the (University of Auckland's) Bone Research Group is that these compounds have a strong potential to improve the treatment of osteoporosis, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to develop them," Belyea said.

"The acquisition of these rights further strengthens and diversifies Metabolic's pipeline, with a clear focus on taking promising compounds from the laboratory bench into clinical development."

Belyea said the New Zealand team had so far done in vitro and in vivo work that showed the compounds worked when administered subcutaneously once a day.

He said Metabolic next planned to contract out its own experiments, using an ovarectomised rat, to verify the results.

The model, which involves removing the rodent's ovaries to induce menopause and osteoporosis, takes three months to prepare, with Belyea predicting research results in six months' time.

He said the current lead drug for osteoporosis, which was about to hit the market, was Eli Lilly's Forteo, an osteoblast-enhancing drug derived from a fragment of natural hormone called Parathyroid Hormone (PTH).

If given in a continuous stream, the drug reportedly thins bone but, paradoxically, when given in the recommended single daily dose it can improve bone density.

Belyea said a problem with the treatment was that it gave inconsistent effects on different bone areas.

He said it also had dose-limiting effects including high blood levels of calcium, nausea and headaches, which meant the safe dose gave about a 12 per cent increase in bone density.

By contrast, the Metabolic drug targets were hoped to achieve a 40 per cent increase in bone density after the NZ scientists found that fragments of amylin and adrenomedullin had only osteoblast-enhancing effects without the side-effects.

Belyea said this meant the therapies were less likely to be dose-limited, allowing the researchers to increase the safe dose level.

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