BioFocus DPI, IOWH sign €3 million deal

Randall C Willis
STORY UPDATE
SAN FRANCISCO—November 1, 2006—Just weeks after announcing the start of a large project to combat diarrheal diseases, the Institute for OneWorld Health announced the project had received a major infusion of cash from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The announcement of the $46-million grant was made at the Global Forum for Health Research's annual meeting Forum 10, held in Cairo.
 
 
MECHELEN, Belgium—Galapagos NV recently announced its services division BioFocus DPI has entered into a drug discovery col­laboration with San Francisco-based non-profit drug company Institute for OneWorld Health (IOWH). The 2.5-year collaboration will focus on the discovery and development of new therapeutics targeting diarrheal dis­eases endemic to the developing world.
 
"Our desire was to make an impact on the two million deaths a year that occur due to diarrhea as a direct cause," explains Dr. Victoria Hale, CEO of IOWH, adding that diarrhea contributes to the deaths of another three to four million people. "It is an ultra-neglected disease that affects as many or more people as the big three—HIV, TB, and malaria—and yet there wasn't a lot of effort around it."
 
According to Hale, the two companies will be taking a very different approach to treating diarrheal diseases—for example, cholera and enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC)—by looking at disease pathology rather than the specific pathogens.
 
"We didn't want to develop an anti-infec­tive because there are too many pathogens, so we decided to go at diarrhea in another way," she says. "We wanted to see if we could develop some products that would prevent or reduce dehydration."
 
To accomplish this, IOWH is coordinating the effort with a series of partners, including BioFocus DPI, to establish what amounts to a distributed company. UCSF professor Dr. Alan Verkman has developed a medium-through­put bioassay to monitor the impact of small-molecule candidates on the cystic fibrosis transmembrane receptor (CFTR), their anti-secre­tory target in the intestine.
 
For its part, BioFocus DPI will act as the medicinal chemistry division for the project. According to Onno van de Stolpe, Galapagos CEO, the project has been met with quite a bit of enthusiasm at BioFocus DPI and the team looks forward to finding appropriate solutions to the challenges ahead.
 
"The project further benefits BioFocus DPI by adding another major client to our customer base and supports our contention that the experience and technology base BioFocus DPI possesses can provide both innovative and cost-effective support to drug discov­ery projects—both for developed and developing world diseases," he says.
 
BioFocus DPI scientists will build lead candidates from a spec­trum of molecules IOWH has been able to get from large pharmaceu­tical companies. "Because we're working in cholera and that truly is not a portfolio item, companies have been very willing to share their libraries with us from start­ing compounds, scaffolds upon which we can start our chemistry," Hale says.
 
Regarding the search for thera­pies for developing world diseases, Van de Stolpe recognizes there are some extra considerations in ther­apy design, including issues of cost of manufacture and distribution. But he also foresees challenges that will be the same as any other medicinal chemistry development project, such as balancing potency with side-effects and pharmacoki­netic compliance.
 
"We are very proud that OneWorld Health has chosen to award this project of major health concern to BioFocus DPI," he adds. "We are pleased to be able to con­tribute to the worldwide research effort aimed at saving lives of chil­dren in developing world countries."

Randall C Willis

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