Genzyme's helping HAND

Genzyme joins Medicines for Malaria Venture and Advinus in malaria research

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BOSTON—Genzyme Corp. recently announced it joined forces with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) of Switzerland and India-based Advinus Therapeutics Ltd., focused on developing new treatments for malaria.

Genzyme will conduct research on treatments through its Humanitarian Assistance for Neglected Diseases (HAND) program, which seeks to be a catalyst in advancing the development of novel therapies for neglected diseases, but does not seek to profit from the commercialization of these therapies.

Jim Geraghty, senior vice president of Genzyme, says the company sees the HAND Initiative as a strategic corporate responsibility.

"We want this to serve as an example," Geraghty says. "By joining the commitment of MMV with the drug discovery expertise of Genzyme and Advinus, we can turn the promise of science into meaningful and sustainable therapies for populations most at risk in India and around the world."

With the complementary skills and experience Advinus brings, the collaboration will focus on identifying new molecules effective at fighting malaria, from early-stage screening to the first steps of preclinical assessment. One important aim is to develop therapies to address the danger of emerging drug resistance that current antimalarial treatments increasingly face.

"We started with the objective of working on malaria therapeutics and we shouldn't do this all in the U.S.," notes Geraghty. "We wanted to work with companies in the areas where this disease is really a problem. Advinus is a first-class company that works to Genzyme's standards."

The ongoing MMV/Genzyme partnership also includes The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The team has begun to identify promising lead candidates, coming out of its innovative platform for high-throughput screening of several compound libraries. Among the kinds of compounds to be optimized, with the help of Advinus, are those active against key target enzymes that are essential for the survival of the malaria parasite.

"We've scoured hundreds of thousands of compounds in Genzyme libraries, Broad Institute libraries and external libraries," Geraghty says. "We have identified several families that look promising."

And the true measure of success of the collaboration will be the partners' ability to identify compounds that would be effective in fighting malaria. One important aim is to develop therapies to address the danger of emerging drug resistance that current antimalarial treatments increasingly face.

Dr. Chris Hentschel, president and CEO of MMV, says new antimalarial agents are urgently needed to stop the loss of life, with eradication as the collaboration's long-term objective.

"The pipeline of new molecules that are effective against malaria must be made more robust so that we can develop the next generation of powerful treatments," says Hentschel.

Dr. Rashmi Barbhaiya, CEO of Advinus, says the collaboration once again confirms the commitment of Advinus and the TATA group to develop medicines for neglected diseases.

"India today is one of the few countries in the world that has not only the disease burden, but also the capability to research and develop new therapies for these diseases," says Barbhaiya.

The recent collaborations with Genzyme highlight a growing interest on developing new malaria therapeutics.

Other players to put their money and research muscle behind efforts to decrease the devastation caused by malaria include the Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative (DNDi), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as efforts of the President Bill Clinton Foundation's HIV/AIDS Initiative which sparked four Indian and two Chinese pharma outfits to agree to lower the prices of artemisin combination therapies (ACT) for treating malaria. DDN

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