Two against the flu

Alios BioPharma and Versitech Ltd. announce exclusive worldwide licensing agreement for influenza technology

Jeffrey Bouley
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—Looking to broaden its effortsto develop new therapeutics for influenza, Alios BioPharma Inc. has signed anexclusive worldwide licensing agreement with Hong Kong-based Versitech Ltd.around technology targeting influenza viruses that will be used to advance theresearch, development, manufacture and commercialization of novel medicines totreat such infection.
 
 
In addition, the companies signed two otherinfluenza-related license agreements that were non-exclusive, and Alios willsponsor collaborative research at the University of Hong Kong in thelaboratories of Dr. Richard Kao, who is an assistant professor in theDepartment of Microbiology. Versitech is the technology transfer company of theUniversity of Hong Kong.
 
 
"Influenza virus infection is responsible for a significantamount of morbidity and mortality and contributes to the rising cost ofhealthcare worldwide," notes Dr. Lawrence M. Blatt, founder, president and CEOof Alios, who says he looks forward to working with Kao, whom he calls "arecognized leader in the field of influenza virus chemical genetics," and hiscolleagues.
 
 
"We believe that the compounds and technology derived fromthis collaboration will provide novel therapeutic options to improve the careof influenza virus-infected patients," Blatt adds. "Dr. Kao has identifiednovel chemical matter that targets a unique component of the influenza viruslife cycle, and we are diligently working with him to advance the leadmolecules into clinical development."
 
"Through access to Alios' drug development expertise, andits successful partnering track record, we have the opportunity to enhance thetreatment of influenza and strengthen our defenses against pandemic threats,"said Hailson Yu, deputy managing director of Versitech Ltd., in an officialstatement. "With emerging resistance to the antiviral agents that are currentlyused to treat influenza infections, new antiviral agents that act on othertargets are clearly needed."
 
 
As Blatt points out, influenza represents serious publichealth and economic problem, as its progression around the world in seasonalepidemics lead to the deaths of at least 250,000 and as many as 500,000 peopleevery year—with pandemics of influenza upping the ante to multiple millions ofpeople at times. Between 1979 and 2001, an average of 41,400 people died frominfluenza each year in the United States alone, he adds, and the World HealthOrganization has estimated that the economic impact of influenza each year costthe United States alone between $71 billion and $167 billion.
 
Influenza isn't the only viral disease area in which AliosBioPharma seeks to develop novel pharmaceuticals, and the company is working tocreate direct-acting antiviral agents against various hepatotropic andrespiratory viruses, as well as other chronic, acute and emerging viraldiseases. Looking to his company's overall goals, Blatt says Alios seeks to"maximize patient benefits in areas of high unmet medical need throughoptimization of potency, safety and tolerability."
 
 
He adds that Alios also has a "significant research anddevelopment collaboration" with Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. that seeks toadvance novel nucleoside therapeutics for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C,a deal that was announced June 2011.
 
 
Of that deal, Blatt said in June, "For more than a decade,Vertex has been a leader in the development of new approaches for treatinghepatitis C, and together [with Vertex] we have the potential to create anall-oral, interferon-free, combination therapy that could improve the safety,efficacy and ease of administration for patients."
 
 
"The recent approval of Incivek was a milestone in hepatitisC care," said Dr. Peter Mueller, chief scientific officer and executive vicepresident of global research and development at Vertex, at the time, notingthat the June announcement "underscores our long-term commitment to furtherimproving the treatment of this disease with new combinations of medicines.Alios has discovered anti-HCV nucleotides that have the potential to be leadingagents in hepatitis C. Based on impressive in-vitro data, we look forward to evaluating ALS-2200 andALS-2158 together and in combination with our approved and investigationalhepatitis C medicines with the goal of creating a highly potent, all-oralregimen in the years ahead."
 
 
The Vertex deal and the one with Versitech are the onlyexclusive worldwide licensing agreements Alios has announced this year, and thenext most recent such deal the company announced was in November 2007 withCleveland Clinic for the development of small-molecule RNase L activators forthe treatment of a broad range of viral diseases such as chronic hepatitis B,hepatitis C, HIV, influenza and others. That technology also is reportedlyapplicable to the treatment of cancer—specifically solid tumors andhematological malignancies such as leukemia. In the intervening years betweenthose licensing deals, most of the big news for Alios has focused on theclosing of various Series A financing rounds and the issuance of a broad U.S.patent for glyco-engineered interferons aimed primarily at hepatitis C.

Jeffrey Bouley

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