Blueprint for neurotherapeutics

AMRI wins five-year, $43 million federal contract award

Lori Lesko
ALBANY, N.Y.—Chosen to providechemistry and other drug discovery technologies for the NationalInstitutes of Health (NIH) Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network,Albany Molecular Research Inc. (AMRI) has won a five-year $43 millionfederal contract award—the largest government award in thecompany's history and one of the largest ever given by the NIH.

The award from the NIH and the NationalInstitute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) in support ofNINDS' Medicinal Chemistry for Neurotherapeutics Program (MCNP) wasannounced Aug. 18.

AMRI has been collaborating with NINDSsince 2005 on novel treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, adegenerative neuromuscular disease.

"After a highly competitive, rigorousapplication process, AMRI was selected for this contract awardbecause of our proven track record on projects of similar scope witha number of global pharmaceutical companies," Thomas E. D'Ambria,AMRI chairman, president and CEO, said in a news release. "We arepleased to support NIH/NINDS' efforts and provide our discoveryresources to the neuroscience research community and to patients whosuffer from devastating neurological and degenerative diseases, suchas macular degeneration and Alzheimer's disease."

Christopher Conway, senior director ofbusiness development for AMRI, says the award
"represents the federal government'sawareness of the great need for treatment for muscle degeneration andnervous system disorders."

"There is substantial unmet need fortreatments in the area of nervous system disorders, which affectmillions of Americans," Conway tells ddn. "About 10 to 20percent of candidate drugs for all disease indications survive theearly phases of development and reach clinical trials. Some nervoussystem disorders are rare and present small markets for drugcompanies and the process for developing new drug therapies is costlyand carries high risk. With this NIH funding, investigators involvedin this project gain access to the same resources and expertise thatdrug companies have, thus enabling AMRI to provide input in patientscare."

For AMRI, the initial funding of up to$10 million applies to the first phase of the project, with theobjective of delivering at least one Phase I clinical trial candidateand subsequent funding of up to $33 million to be spread over theremaining four years of the contract.

"The investigators get access tothe same resources and expertise that drug companies have," saysJill Heemskerk, a program director in the NINDS Office ofTranslational Research and lead contact for the BlueprintNeurotherapeutics Network. "The investigators will retainintellectual property rights for any drugs they develop through thenetwork. Our hope is that pharmaceutical companies will license themost promising drugs and invest in the clinical studies needed tobring them to market."

According to the SMA Foundation, anestimated 9,000 people in the United States have spinal muscularatrophy (SMA). SMA types I, II and III belong to a group ofhereditary diseases that cause weakness and wasting of the voluntarymuscles in the arms and legs of infants and children.

The disorders are caused by an abnormalor missing gene known as the survival motor neuron gene 1, which isresponsible for the production of a protein essential to motorneurons, the NIH reports. Muscular dystrophies are a group of morethan 30 genetic diseases characterized by progressive weakness anddegeneration of the skeletal muscles that control movement.
 

Lori Lesko

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