BrainCells enters collaboration with Lundbeck to screen CNS targets

BrainCells Inc. announced in late March a research collaboration with H. Lundbeck A/S under which BrainCells is screening central nervous system targets and compounds from Lundbeck’s library using its neurogenesis-based technology.

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SAN DIEGO—BrainCells Inc. announced in late March a research collaboration with H. Lundbeck A/S under which BrainCells is screening central nervous system targets and compounds from Lundbeck's library using its neurogenesis-based technology.

James Schoeneck, CEO of BrainCells, says, "We hope that our technology will increase the chances that Lundbeck develops compounds that will be effective for CNS indications. It will allow the company to make informed decisions about the potential of a drug before it spends additional time and money in development."

The BrainCells platform uses human cell-based in vitro assays and in vivo assays that measure neuron grown and behavior. The assays provide information on neurogenesis – the adult human brain process under which pre-existing stem cells produce new neurons – by looking at neural stem cell proliferation, migration to correct brain locations, differentiation, and survival.

Speaking of the relevance of the collaboration, Caroline Broge, media relations manager at Lundbeck, says, "In this particular case, we can learn how compounds might work in human situations." Although Lundbeck has not released a list of indications or targets it will investigate with BrainCells, the company's Web site lists R&D efforts in mood disorders, psychoses, neurodegenerative disorders, epilepsy, sleep disorders, and stroke.

Financial details of the deal with BrainCells were also not disclosed.

Lundbeck has a history of spending a sizeable portion of revenues on research: company data show 21 percent of 2006 revenues funding R&D. "By entering collaborations like this, we secure constant innovation in the process of doing research and developing new and innovative pharmaceuticals," says Broge. Lundbeck is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and drew 59 percent of its 2006 revenue from European markets.

Neurogenesis, according to Schoeneck, is a relatively new concept in medicine. "If you were to ask scientists if the adult human brain could regenerate itself 10 years ago, they would have said no," he says. "Now we not only know that the brain can regenerate new neurons, there is evidence that links neurogenesis to CNS indications including depression and anxiety."

For BrainCells, the Lundbeck deal provides additional validation of its technology, following an announcement in October 2006 of a collaboration with Organon, for screening former pipeline compounds whose clinical development was halted but have established safety profiles. "When we identify a drug that exhibits neurogenesis and determine that it would be a good candidate, we will work with Organon to develop and reposition the drug for its new use," says Schoeneck.

The Organon collaboration, believes Schoeneck, illustrates the BrainCells strategy of accelerating drug development timelines while mitigating risk. "There are many drugs that are safe but have failed early clinical trials due to lack of efficacy," he says, but the ability of the BrainCells technology to identify neurogenesis increases the chances of developing efficacious therapies. The science behind the BrainCells approach arose at the Salk Institute in San Diego and Columbia University.

BrainCells has also in-licensed a clinical stage compound from Mitsubishi Pharma Corp.; BrainCells plans a Phase IIa clinical study of the compound during 2007, looking at treatment of major depressive disorder and anxiety, an area where it sees strong markets.

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