Striking a ‘G’ note on schizophrenia

Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim and California’s Arena Pharmaceuticals collaborate in GPCR deal

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INGELHEIM, Germany—Aimed at strengthening research in schizophrenia and other psychiatric diseases while alleviating the high cost and social burden of mental illness, Boehringer Ingelheim and San Diego-based Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc. have signed an exclusive agreement to jointly research drug candidates which target a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) of orphan central nervous system (CNS) receptors.
The new partnership, announced Jan. 13, combines Arena’s expertise in GPCR-focused drug discovery and development with Boehringer Ingelheim’s unique approach to CNS research and development, particularly in bringing novel therapeutic medications to the market for high unmet medical needs.
Julia Meyer-Kleinmann, executive director of corporate communications at Boehringer Ingelheim, tells DDNews, “The first indication of focus for this partnership is indeed schizophrenia and symptom domains related to it. However, the companies will jointly conduct research to identify additional drug candidates deemed suitable for continued research and development as therapeutic compounds for various disease indications.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Arena is to provide Boehringer Ingelheim with exclusive rights to its internally discovered compounds and intellectual property for an orphan CNS receptor and exclusive worldwide rights to develop, manufacture and commercialize any products that come out of the collaboration. In turn, Arena is eligible to receive payments of up to $262 million in milestones in the case of full commercial success, including an upfront payment and research funding. Arena is also expected to receive tiered royalties on future sales of products arising from the collaboration.
In the meantime, both companies will conduct research to identify additional drug candidates suitable for continued research and development as therapeutic compounds for various diseases.
“This agreement reflects our new corporate focus to enter into collaboration opportunities at various stages of development,” Harry F. Hixson Jr., Arena’s interim CEO, stated in a news release. “Collaborations are an essential part of our drug discovery and development efforts, so we are pleased to be part of this shared goal to identify novel drugs targeting an orphan CNS receptor with Boehringer Ingelheim, which possesses demonstrated capabilities in research, development, manufacturing and marketing of pharmaceutical products.”
Corporate Senior Vice President Clive R. Wood, head of discovery research at Boehringer Ingelheim, said, “We are delighted to enter into this new collaboration with Arena. We believe that this alliance with Arena will allow us to deliver innovative new medicines for the treatment of patients with psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and contribute to our vision of helping the millions of people with mental illness to live fuller, more independent lives, longer.”
Mental illness—together with substance abuse disorders—remains the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). At least 450 million people suffer from mental health problems, leading to a global economic burden proving more costly than that for cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and it continues to grow, with significant health, social and economic consequences. As currently available treatment options leave many patients unsatisfactorily treated, more effective medicines for mental diseases are urgently needed.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health defines schizophrenia as a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality.
Schizophrenia has also been described as a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real, according to WHO. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, hearing voices, reduced social engagement and emotional expression and a lack of motivation. People often have additional mental health problems such as major depression anxiety disorders or substance use disorder. Symptoms typically come on gradually, beginning in young adulthood.
“It is too early to speculate upon a treatment of any specific symptom,” says Meyer-Kleinmann. “This collaboration aims to identify substances targeting an (undisclosed) G protein-coupled receptor (which belongs to the group of orphan CNS receptors) characteristic to a research collaboration in its early stage.”
This is the first time the two companies have signed an agreement to work together.
Craig M. Audet, senior vice president of operations and head of global regulatory affairs at Arena, tells DDNews, “Given Boehringer Ingelheim’s reputation in CNS diseases, it was the natural choice of partners.”
“Partnering is a central part of our company’s strategy, and the same is true for Boehringer Ingelheim,” he adds, noting that “more than 50 percent of the company’s early-mid stage pipeline is filled with products that are derived from external innovation with partners.”
“We have not disclosed the specifics of our research,” Audet says. “However, the companies will jointly conduct research to identify additional drug candidates targeting this orphan CNS receptor in the disease area of schizophrenia.”
GPCRs “play a crucial role in many diverse disease processes and are therefore a target for other pharmaceutical companies as well,” Audet comments. “However, we believe that our ability to discover selective, potent, novel compounds sets us apart from the competition.”
From the start, “Arena’s mission has been to discover exquisitely selective pharmaceuticals that act on G protein-coupled receptors,” he concludes. “We believe it is this selectivity that can differentiate our compounds through enhanced pharmacology, leading to safer and more effective drugs.”

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