A future without fat?

Vancouver’s Sirona Biochem to acquire France-based TFChem for technology in treating obesity, diabetes

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia—In a huge move targeted toward treating the worldwide epidemics of obesity and diabetes, Canadian biotech Sirona Biochem Corp. is poised to acquire France-based TFChem SAS for its technology in the synthesis and stabilization of carbohydrate-based molecules. This joint venture could lead to the discovery of novel drugs aimed at controlling caloric intake and glucose levels.

The TSX Venture Exchange has given conditional approval of the deal, but a formal signing of the acquisition documents is expected to take place in France before closing on the private placement.

Under the acquisition agreement, Sirona will purchase from TFChem's shareholders all of TFChem's issued shares for approximately 13 million common shares in the capital of Sirona at a deemed price of 10 cents per share, or approximately $665,716 in cash, for a total purchase price of approximately $2 million.

Dr. Howard Verrico, founder and CEO of Sirona, says that the increase in both obesity and type 2 diabetes patients is evident not only in North America, but throughout the world. Mark Senner, Sirona's president, adds that in the United States alone, diabetes is going to be a $25 billion market, and Big Pharma is watching Sirona's technology closely.

The most recent stats available from the World Health Organization (WHO) state that 1.6 billion adults are overweight and as many as 400 million are obese. It is estimated that by 2015 these numbers will have grown to approximately 2.3 billion and 700 million respectively—about one-third of the world's population.

At the same time, the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF) reports that as many as 230 million people are affected by diabetes today. In 2005, an estimated 1.1 million people died from diabetes. By 2007, that number had grown to 3.5 million. Over the next decade, the death rates could rise by as much as 25 percent.

Sirona's lead program is a sodium glucose cotransporter (SGLT) inhibitor for type 2 diabetes, says Julie Jang, director of communications for Sirona. SGLT inhibitors regulate glucose by blocking the uptake of glucose in the kidney, Senner explains. Instead of stockpiling, glucose is simply expelled from the body through urination. Because SGLT inhibitor molecules do not work through the application of insulin, they can be developed in the form of a pill.

"We would like to ultimately see a once-a-day medication which will be used to help those that are obese to lose weight, and those who have diabetes to be better able to control their blood sugar," says Senner. "What we're doing is attaching an atom to the molecule in various positions, and conceptually, that seems like it's very easy. But this isn't an easy science at all. This particular class of molecule is highly unstable, very difficult to work with and there are very few people around the world who have perfected the techniques to develop these drugs."

One of those people happens to be Dr. Geraldine Deliencourt-Godefroy, a renowned French scientist in the field of sugar-based molecules, founder of TFChem and partner in Sirona.

Using a proprietary chemistry method, Deliencourt-Godefroy discovered a way to overcome the complex challenges usually associated with carbohydrate-based compounds, and developed robust compounds as therapeutics, anti-aging cosmetic ingredients and other biological ingredients, Jang says.

The technology was licensed in 2008 from TFChem, the company Sirona plans to acquire. Positive preclinical results were achieved with the compound reducing blood glucose levels by as much as 50 percent. In a comparative study, the compound performed better than dapagliflozin, the most advanced SGLT inhibitor being developed by Bristol Myers Squibb Co.

"It is through this relationship that Sirona Biochem recognized the true value of TFChem's technology platform, on which our SGLT inhibitor program is based," Jang says. "Our expertise is complementary and we have been able to leverage from each other's knowledge in order to streamline our development process."

The platform has excellent potential for other applications, she adds. This expertise in carbohydrate-based chemistry can be applied to existing unstable drugs, shelved compounds, patent-expiring products and other biological uses.

"We are encouraged by the results of our program, and believe that TFChem's proprietary technology platform has the potential for the development of multiple commercially valuable compounds," she says.

With this acquisition, Sirona will also expand its pipeline with the addition of cosmeceuticals and biological ingredients compounds, while still staying focused on one technology platform, Jang says. TFChem will become a subsidiary of Sirona, with all of the French firm's facilities and employees.

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