Biotech expertise to raise profile of neglected disease

Medicines for Malaria Venture and Anacor Pharmaceuticals collaborate on applying boron chemistry technology to treat malaria

Kimberely Sirk
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PALO ALTO, Calif.—Anacor Pharmaceuticals announced in April that it has entered into a research agreement with Geneva-based not-for-profit Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to explore Anacor's novel boron chemistry platform for developing new therapeutics for the treatment of malaria.

Under the agreement, Anacor will be responsible for leading the research effort and MMV will contribute its extensive malaria drug research expertise as well as financial support.

Malaria is a persistent problem in sub-Saharan African countries, and impacts mostly a younger population, with most patients under the age of five, as well as pregnant women. It is estimated that more than 850,000 individuals die each year from this mosquito-borne affliction. The disease is also found in parts of Asia and Latin America. Although malaria is present in more than 100 countries, anyone who travels to one of the affected countries or regions could contract the parasite from a mosquito bite.

Specifically sought by this partnership are compounds active against P. vivax—the strain of malaria that causes relapsing fevers in Southeast Asia and South America.

According to Eric Easom, program leader of neglected disease for Anacor, this partnership will benefit from the company's path-breaking expertise in making oxaboroles to benefit research in fighting a widespread disease that has not been addressed through biotechnology advancements.

"Anacor is pleased to be working with MMV in an effort to discover and develop promising new therapeutics for malaria," says company CEO David Perry. "Anacor will continue to pursue these research and development activities in neglected diseases with the world's leading not-for-profit organizations where we believe that our boron chemistry platform and expertise shows promising activity."

MMV was founded in 1999 as a partnership to address the growing intractability of malaria, as the parasitic disease has begun to evade cure by traditional, readily available antimalarials. According to the group, it also saw the drug development pipeline running dry, and conventional treatments becoming ineffective due to growing parasite resistance.  Facing what the group believes to be a projected public health disaster, a group of public and private organizations joined forces and created an experimental, not-for-profit, public-private product development partnership.

Easom adds that the funding supporting this new line of research was obtained by Anacor through a competitive grant funding application process at MMV. He adds that MMV is funded by goverment agencies, private and corporate foundations and international organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to MMV, the organization has now received or has commitments for funding totaling $480 million in U.S. funds. This funding enables MMV to work with partners such as Anacor.

Easom was unable to comment on the financial commitment from MMV to Anacor.
Dr. Tim Wells, chief scientific officer of MMV, says Anacor will be making the compounds, and testing them for their metabolic properties and activity against the parasite.

"We are happy to lend our boron chemistry expertise to this neglected disease," Easom says. "We're one of the most active biotechs in this space. It is a win for everyone, when MMV can benefit from our novel platform, we can receive funding to serve this need, and our shareholders are assured that this partnership is revenue-neutral."

Wells adds that the funding of Anacor was logical due to other research synergies.

"Anacor has been working with two of MMV's partners, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and DNDi, so we have been interested in their technology for some time," he says. "They tested some of their compounds against the malaria parasite, and this led to some interesting data—with compounds active in animal models. These early data were reviewed by our experts, who agreed that there was a real potential to have a new class of compounds targeting malaria, and so the collaboration was agreed.

"MMV and its other partners will be organizing the in vivo testing, through the collaboration we have wth GSK's Diseases of the Developing World group in Spain," Wells continues. "GSK has developed a special model which enables us to study the human parasite in mice, and this is important in projects such as this one, where the exact molecular target of the drugs is not completely clear at this stage."

There is a critical need for safe and easy to use medications to thwart growing resistance to current drugs in this most vulnerable population, Wells says.

"We hope that this collaboration with Anacor will lead us to effective new treatments for this devastating disease," he adds.

Aside from the heartening results with other collaborators, Wells says his organization was intrigued by Anacor's expertise in boron chemistry.

"The boron chemistry is built around the proprietary expertise of Anacor—making oxaboroles," comments Wells. "These are incorporated into a variety of drug-like structures, and have been shown to work against a variety of parasitic and also bacterial targets by Anacor. As a result of this, there are already some scaffolds identified with interesting activities—and since these molecules are small and bioavailable, there is scope to optimize them further."

According to Easom, the research is currently in the lead optimization stage.

"We have a chemical library that has in it products that are unique for parasitic diseases," says Easom. "Anacor intends to pursue this as long as the project is revenue-neutral, with the funding coming not from our stockholders, but from foundations. It's exciting to bring our novel technology to bear in eradicating this neglected disease. I am the only person I know in biotech who is dedicated to this space. We know our boron chemistry has an affinity to these diseases, and we feel we have a responsibility to work in this space."

Anacor is a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and commercializing novel small-molecule therapeutics derived from its boron chemistry platform. Anacor has discovered and is developing five clinical compounds, including its three lead programs for the treatment of onychomycosis, psoriasis and a systemic antibiotic for the treatment of infections caused by gram-negative bacteria.

MMV is dedicated to eradication of malaria in countries where that disease is a public health threat with the discovery, development and delivery of new, effective and affordable antimalarial drugs using public-private partnerships. MMV is currently managing the largest portfolio of antimalarial research and development projects ever assembled, numbering more than 50 antimalarial projects in collaboration with more than 130 pharmaceutical, academic, and endemic-country partners in 44 countries. In partnership with pharmaceutical companies, MMV has screened more than five million compounds for antimalarial activity. This exploration resulted in more than 10,000 new starting points for medicinal chemistry.

Kimberely Sirk

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