Golden opportunity for PsychoGenics and AstraZeneca

Companies to collaborate on finding new treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders

Lori Lesko
TARRYTOWN, N.Y.— Seizing a golden opportunity to discover anew generation of drugs for neuropsychiatric disorders, PsychoGenics Inc. andAstraZeneca have forged a drug discovery and development agreement aimed atidentifying compounds targeted toward treating serious central nervous system(CNS) disorders in more innovative ways and with fewer side effects.
 
According to the terms of the partnership, PsychoGenics willuse its proprietary drug discovery technologies to evaluate AstraZeneca drugcandidates for their potential. In return, PsychoGenics will receive researchpayments and milestones commensurate with the stage of development, as well asroyalties on any future sales. The specific terms of this agreement were notdisclosed.
 
"We are excited about this collaboration and look forward toworking with AstraZeneca`s scientific team," says Dr. Emer Leahy, president andCEO of PsychoGenics. "We are confident that, with AstraZeneca`s compoundlibraries and expertise in CNS drug discovery, and our proprietary drugdiscovery approach, we have an excellent opportunity to identify novel andimproved treatments for serious psychiatric disorders."
 
 
PsychoGenics brings in vivo behavior testing services to the table, including: psychiatricdisorders (anxiety, depression, psychosis, mania and ADHD); cognitive disordersand neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, Parkinson's, Huntington's andAlzheimer's diseases; spinal muscular atrophy pain; drug abuse; and sexualdisorders. 
 
Bavani Shankar, vice president of corporate development ofPsychoGenics, says her company made the first move toward the joint endeavor.
 
 
"PsychoGenics approached AstraZeneca and introduced thecompany to the power of our proprietary drug discovery technologies," Shankarsays. "After conducting a small exploratory study using this technology,AstraZeneca was impressed by our potential and approached us about workingtogether in collaboration."
 
 
Shankar believes the partnership bodes well for potentialbreakthroughs.
 
"PsychoGenics will use its proprietary drug discoverytechnology to screen AstraZeneca compounds and establish their potential totreat psychiatric disorders," Shankar says. "The potential of these compoundsto treat psychiatric disorders and differentiate from current standard of carewill be further evaluated in other in vivoassays by PsychoGenics. AstraZeneca will be responsible for taking theircompounds forward into clinical development."
 
The company's discovery platform, SmartCube, "combinesrobotics, computer video capture and analysis (called computer vision) andbioinformatics to capture and analyze data that can be distilled into a'behavioral signature' for a given compound," Shankar says.
 
 
"SmartCube accurately detects the potential of compounds totreat psychiatric disorders. One key feature of these behavior-drivenapproaches is that they are agnostic to a compound's target or mechanism ofaction, allowing PsychoGenics to screen compounds," she says.
 
 
Specific AstraZeneca targets to be evaluated will "not bepublicly disclosed," Shankar says, adding only, "We are focusing on major unmetneeds in psychiatric disorders."
 
 
Dr. Frank Yocca, vice president and head of Research AreaCNS & Pain at AstraZeneca R&D, says, "We are continuously seekingopportunities to collaborate with those who share our commitment to pursuingnovel therapies. We are eager to start our work with PsychoGenics in thisimportant area of research, and we are excited to be able to access theirinnovative technologies and to leverage their expertise in neurobiology. Ourcollaboration with PsychoGenics is a great example of how AstraZeneca isimplementing its strategy of accessing the best science wherever it exists tocomplement our in-house efforts and to ensure we have a robust and sustainablepipeline."
 
"For patients suffering from psychiatric disorders, there isstill a huge unmet medical need for treatments that deliver fast-onset,high-level symptom relief with fewer side effects," he says.
 
 
PsychoGenics was founded in 1999 by Eric Nestler, aneuroscience professor and director of Mount Sinai Brain Institute, and companychairman Henry Jarecki. The privately held biotech, headquartered in Tarrytown,N.Y., has more than 140 employees in psychopharmacology, behavioralneurobiology, bioinformatics and computational chemistry.
 
 
PsychoGenics offers more than 60 different behavioral testsused for identifying drug candidates to treat psychiatric, neurological, andcognitive disorders to more than 100 companies worldwide. These tests areoffered as a fee-for-service, with no flow through royalties, milestones orintellectual property rights. All of the results and data generated belong tothe client.
 
 
 
The company's most advanced in-house drug candidate,eltoprazine, 5HT1A/1B recently completed Phase II clinical trials for ADHD andis being considered for additional indications (L-DOPA induced dyskinesia inParkinson's patients and cognitive impairment associated with schizophreniaCIAS).
 
 
PsychoGenics also has partnered with major pharmaceuticaland biotech companies such as Lilly, Roche, Sepracor, Cephalon and DainipponSumitomo Pharma of Japan.



AstraZeneca inks $1.5 billion licensing deal with Nektar fortwo drugs
 
 
WILMINGTON, Del.—AstraZeneca also announced in Septemberthat it has reached a potential $1.5 billion deal to license compounds fromNektar Therapeutics that could help patients suffering from one of the chiefside effects of opioid pain relievers.
 
Nektar, a San Carlos, Calif.-based pharmaceutical company,is developing NKTR-118, an experimental drug for the treatment ofopioid-related constipation. The company also has an early-stage drugdevelopment program to combine NKTR-118 with certain opioids, a class ofpainkillers that includes morphine, codeine and oxycodone.
 
AstraZeneca will pay Nektar an upfront payment of $125million for the rights to both development programs. Nektar is also eligible toreceive up to $235 million, depending on regulatory milestones, for NKTR-118,as well as sales milestone payments of up to $375 million, depending on theproduct's commercial success. The agreement gives AstraZeneca the right todevelop multiple products combining NKTR-118 with existing opioids. For each ofthe first two such products, Nektar is eligible to receive up to $75 millionfor development milestones and up to $310 million for additional salesmilestones.
 
In addition to the potential payments of more than $1.5billion, Nektar is also entitled to "significant and escalating double-digitroyalty payments" for any products that reach the market. AstraZeneca hasresponsibility for all research, development and commercialization costs and willcontrol product development and commercialization decisions.
 
According to AstraZeneca, about 90 percent of patients whotake opioids for chronic pain management experience constipation, and fewerthan half find effective relief from current prescription and over-the-countertreatment options.

Lori Lesko

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