Iceland's deCODE Genetics saw its US-listed shares rise more than 10 per cent yesterday after it reported the discovery of a gene that appears to play a role in whether people are lean or fat.
Through genotypic analysis involving more than 1,000 women participants in its obesity program, deCODE scientists isolated the gene which in one form predisposes to obesity and in another form predisposes to thinness, at least in women.
The discovery sparks a milestone payment to deCODE from Merck & Co, its partner for the project. The Reykjavik-based company signed an agreement with Merck last October that could reach a value of $90 million (€77m), if more than one drug candidate from the alliance enters development.
"These are exciting results that suggest we have identified key markers within a pathway involved in the regulation of body weight in women," said Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE.
Obesity and thinness are two sides of the same coin, he said. The company is now working alongside Merck to identify the best targets for therapeutic intervention within this pathway, as well as compounds that are effective against these targets.
"This is an important step towards developing new drugs that can treat obesity, perhaps by utilising the body's own mechanisms for promoting and maintaining thinness," said Stefansson.
deCODE's shares on the Nasdaq put on $0.44 to reach $4.70 by the close of trading yesterday. The company's stock has been in the ascendancy of late, as just last week it had a paper published in Nature Genetics describing the first gene linked to ischaemic stroke.