The three-year award, from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, has been given for research and eventual commercialization of galanthamine, a daffodil-derived extract for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
PharmEng opened the C$15m Keata Pharma facility, based in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 2007, with C$6m in backing from the federal government. Since then the expected volume of contract work has not been achieved and Keata has been forced to cut back staffing to reduce its cash burn.
Earlier this month it laid off another nine workers to pare its headcount back to 26 employees, having predicted that the unit would eventually require 165 employees when running at capacity. 20 staff were let go in August 2008.
The latest funding comes at an opportune time for the firm, which has been trying to raise funds through private investors.
The Alzheimer’s project involves formulation development, extraction of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (galantamine), purification and final dosage finishing. Access to Government funding is expected as the project meets certain deliverables over the 3 year period.
Johnson & Johnson sells a version of the compound as Razadyne/Reminyl (galantamine hydrobromide) which had sales of $138m in the fourth quarter of 2008.
J&J’s Ortho-McNeil subsidiary lost patent protection for the immediate-release formulation of galantamine in December, opening the door to generic competition. It also saw patent protection for an extended-release form of the drug overturned by a US court in September 2008, but has said it will appeal that decision.
Keata said it will provide commercial manufacturing of the ingredient for the North American market “once research has been successfully completed and all the necessary regulatory approvals have been obtained, a process that could take three to five years.”
Alan Kwong, CEO of PharmEng International, was upbeat about the impact of the project on Keata.
"The potential for this product as a natural and cost effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease will provide the Sydney facility with manufacturing volumes that will push the limits of the plant capacity given the anticipated demand,” he said.