A natural fit

Bristol-Meyers Squibb turns to Albany Molecular Research for natural product collaboration

Jeffrey Bouley
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ALBANY, N.Y.—AlbanyMolecular Research Inc. (AMRI) recently announced that it has entered into anatural products-based drug discovery collaboration with Bristol-Myers SquibbCo. that will span two years. According to Bruce Sargent, vice president ofresearch and development for AMRI, this is not only a sign of confidence in hiscompany by a big pharma player but a broader sign of a return to naturalproducts in the industry.
Specific details of the work are conifidential, but AMRI hasnoted that under the terms of the agreement, it will test samples from itsnatural product hit seeking collections against multiple drug targets, with thegoal of identifying hit compounds with desired biological activity in apotential range of therapeutic areas.
"This a broad-based program," notes Sargent. "BMS wants toapply our technology and resources to a wide range of their drug discoveryprograms. And that covers an awful lot of disease areas potentially, fromoncology to metabolics to central nervous system and more."
AMRI also could provide follow-up medicinal chemistryhit-to-lead optimization, biocatalysis or chemical synthesis support oncompounds of interest to Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Financial specifics are also under wraps at this point, but thecollaboration does include an upfront payment for AMRI, research funding andopportunities for the company to receive milestone payments based on theachievement of specific development and commercialization goals. AMRI wouldalso receive royalty payments on sales of commercial products that result fromthe collaboration.
Although his company cannot say much about the Bristol-MyersSquibb deal itself, Sargent says there is quite a bit to say about what thisdeal signifies in a larger sense for pharmaceutical discovery work.
"It wasn't that long ago that a lot of our pharmaceuticalproducts emerged from natural products, but then companies began to move awayfrom that when they got into combinatorial chemistry," he says. "But thatmethod hasn't always delivered on its promises. The Bristol-Myers Squibbdecision to tap us for natural products is illustrative of a broader attitude amongcompanies that are now asking themselves, 'Why did we just give up on lookingat natural products?' And now they're coming back to have another go at it."
With almost 300,000 crude and partially purified fractions,AMRI reportedly has one of the world's largest and diverse natural products-basedcollections derived from microbial cultures, plants and marine organisms.
As to what drew AMRI and Bristol-Myers Squibb together onthis deal, Sargent notes that the two companies had struck an earlier deal in2005, a three-year agreement under which Bristol-Myers Squibb licensed AMRI's broadprogram of biogenic amine reuptake inhibitor compounds for the treatment ofdepression and other central nervous system disorders. "We're always looking for companies that might want totap our natural product library, and we had approached BMS in the past aboutthat," Sargent explains. "After we got going on the central nervous systemdeal, which wasn't based on natural products, they got a chance to work with usclosely and see how we were able to get things done for them. That gave themcomfort level and confidence that they could count on us as they made a returnto natural products, too."

Jeffrey Bouley

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