The deal with Elbion focuses on discovering drugs to treat schizophrenia, while collaborations with Nautilus Biotech and MediVas are aimed at developing more advanced haemophilia treatments, either by developing new drugs or a better drug delivery system.
Schizophrenia is thought to affect around 1 per cent of the global population over the age of 18, which at any one time is as many as 51 million people, although only a fraction of thee cases will be diagnosed. There is currently no cure although every year, the US spends over $5bn on drugs to treat the disease.
US -based Wyeth prides itself on successfully developing products based on small molecules, biotechnology drugs and vaccine research and hopes to augment its pipeline in two of those categories with these new deals.
It has agreed to partner with small molecule drug specialists Elbion, which recently merged with 4AZA Bioscience, in a deal worth up to $110m to the Belgian pharma firm. The companies will collaborate to find small molecule drugs that inhibit phosphodiesterase 10 (PDE10), a protein found in unusually high levels in neurons of the brain associated with many neurological and psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and psychosis.
PDE10 is found in nerve cells in the brain and breaks down chemicals cAMP and cGMP, which are essential for many cells, including nerves, to function properly. By inhibiting PDE10, the amount of these two proteins found in the brain increases and the neurons function better.
Ann DeBeuckelaer, director of business development at Elbion, told Drugresearcher.com that "there is no drug on the market that really treats schizophrenia as the patient would like," and their research could provide a new mechanism of action to treat the disorder. She added that the collaboration is part of Elbion's desire to position itself as a speciality pharmaceutical company.
As part of that strategy, last month Elbion acquired a number of product candidates from French biotech, DrugAbuse Sciences. The most advanced is a depot formulation of naltrexone Depot for the treatment of alcohol abuse, which is being prepared to enter Phase III trials.
DeBeuckelaer explained that with the purchase, Elbion's pipeline is balanced across development phases and Naltrexone Depot should "enable Elbion to get to market in 2011/2012 with products developed in house."
The partnership is not Wyeth's first this year for schizophrenia drugs and so clearly indicates a growing desire on its part to drive forward this area of research. In January, Wyeth extended its collaboration with Solvay Pharmaceuticals. The partnership started in 2004 and has already borne fruit with the development of schizophrenia treatment bifeprunox. A New Drug Application (NDA) was filed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last December.
Wyeth and Solvay also develop several other compounds as part of the original and extended deal.
Haemophilia is relatively rare, affecting around 130,000 people worldwide. It is a blood-clotting disorder caused by a deficiency in one of two proteins - Factor VIII (haemophilia A) or Factor IX (haemophilia B).
Although these proteins can simply be replaced through supplements, the treatments do not last long and have to be administered via injection. Wyeth already develops two treatments, one for each type of haemophilia: ReFacto for haemophilia A and BeneFix to treat haemophilia B.
With these two new deals, Wyeth is looking to further expand into haemophilia B treatments, where BeneFix is currently the best selling drug. It also wants to increase patient convenience by offering non-injectable treatments and reducing the number of doses needed.
Wyeth will collaborate with French firm Nautilus Biotech, to develop recombinant Factor IX proteins to treat haemophilia B. By specifically modifying just a minimal number of amino acids - the building blocks of proteins - Nautilus hope to slow its breakdown while not affecting the protein's function. This can then reduce the number of treatments a patient must undergo.
A similar approach has been adopted in the creation of insulin analogues for treating diabetes.
"This research partnership enhances Wyeth's presence in biopharmaceuticals and builds upon our history of innovation in haemophilia research," said Cavan Redmond, general manager of the BioPharma business unit at Wyeth.
"Wyeth is continually evaluating technologies for next-generation haemophilia products that provide unique and improved features for patients."
Wyeth has also made plans to develop more conveniently administered haemophilia therapies. It will team up with MediVas, which specialises in developing biodegradable polymer-based drug delivery systems that make biopharma drugs last longer by preventing them from being broken down in the body too quickly. This approach enables a biopharmaceutical to be administered in different ways.
By combining Wyeth's protein-based haemophilia drugs and MediVas technology, the companies hope to "offer an alternative to the intravenous administration of these proteins," said MediVas CEO Kenneth Carpenter.
"The novel approach of polymer-based delivery systems could offer promise for other therapeutic applications," added Redmond.