DORTMUND, Germany—According to Thomas Hegendoerfer, head of business development at the Lead Discovery Center GmbH Worldwide (LDC), “An estimated 2.4 million American adults have schizophrenia. It is estimated that one person in every 100 develops schizophrenia, which is one of the most serious types of mental illness. Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling mental disorder ranked among the 12 most debilitating diseases by the World Health Organization.”
He added, “In about half of the patients, so-called positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions) can be successfully treated with neuroleptics. However, there is no treatment available for the schizophrenia-associated negative symptoms (reduced affect and emotions) and cognitive impairments. Despite the availability of neuroleptics, most of schizophrenia patients remain unemployed and often depend on lifelong support. There remains a strong need for new drugs truly addressing causative mechanisms and cognitive impairment.”
LDC was established in 2008 by the technology transfer organization Max Planck Innovation, as a novel approach to capitalize on the potential of excellent basic research for the discovery of new therapies for diseases with high medical need. LDC takes on promising early-stage projects from academia and transforms them into innovative pharmaceutical leads that reach initial proof of concept in animals.
LDC, Max Planck Innovation GmbH and Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH have signed an agreement giving Boehringer Ingelheim the option to receive the exclusive rights to a new lead compound for the treatment of schizophrenia to be discovered and developed at the LDC. The approach builds on research results from Prof. Moritz Rossner and his team at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Göttingen. Rossner, who holds a professorship at Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, and is a co-founder of Systasy Bioscience GmbH, will work closely together with the LDC team to identify and optimize novel compounds with strong therapeutic potential and develop it further to the stage of a validated pharmaceutical lead with in-vivo efficacy.
“Schizophrenia is an incredibly complex disorder which dramatically changes the life of the individual affected,” said Rossner. “We believe our approach holds strong potential to improve the treatment options for patients, and this collaboration with the LDC and Boehringer Ingelheim is a great opportunity to advance it from our laboratory into pharmaceutical development.”
LDC and Boehringer Ingelheim have been in close contact ever since the start of LDC in 2008, Hegendoerfer explained, noting that “This particular schizophrenia project was a very early-stage project in LDC’s pipeline. The target sparked considerable interest at Boehringer, with first discussions starting in 2014.”
Boehringer “got excited about a first data set” that LDC generated and the “solid science behind it,” according to Hegendoerfer. Consequently, Boehringer expressed its interest in securing preferred access to this program, which finally led to this option agreement.
Max Planck’s Rossner is the primary investigator and scientific “mastermind” behind the novel project approach/target, Hegendorfer added. LDC acts as a “translational” incubator that carries out most of the operational drug discovery work in close collaboration with the primary investigator. Boehringer “has a seat on the project development team and will allocate certain internal resources to the program” to support the early development work.
Furthermore, Boehringer Ingelheim has option rights to the program. After execution of the option, Boehringer will be in charge of the further preclinical and clinical development as well as commercialization, in return for license payments shared by LDC and the academic partner, Hegendorfer said.
“As for any early preclinical project, the ultimate commercial value is very hard to estimate,” Hegendorfer concluded. “Together with our commercial partner Boehringer, we strongly believe that there is still a tremendous medical need in schizophrenia that makes up for a strong business case, and our approach holds strong potential to improve the treatment options for patients.”