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Golden opportunity for PsychoGenics and AstraZeneca
October 2009
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author
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TARRYTOWN, N.Y.— Seizing a golden opportunity to discover a new generation of drugs for neuropsychiatric disorders, PsychoGenics Inc. and AstraZeneca have forged a drug discovery and development agreement aimed at identifying compounds targeted toward treating serious central nervous system (CNS) disorders in more innovative ways and with fewer side effects.
 
According to the terms of the partnership, PsychoGenics will use its proprietary drug discovery technologies to evaluate AstraZeneca drug candidates for their potential. In return, PsychoGenics will receive research payments and milestones commensurate with the stage of development, as well as royalties on any future sales. The specific terms of this agreement were not disclosed.
 
"We are excited about this collaboration and look forward to working with AstraZeneca`s scientific team," says Dr. Emer Leahy, president and CEO of PsychoGenics. "We are confident that, with AstraZeneca`s compound libraries and expertise in CNS drug discovery, and our proprietary drug discovery approach, we have an excellent opportunity to identify novel and improved treatments for serious psychiatric disorders."  
 
PsychoGenics brings in vivo behavior testing services to the table, including: psychiatric disorders (anxiety, depression, psychosis, mania and ADHD); cognitive disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, Parkinson's, Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases; spinal muscular atrophy pain; drug abuse; and sexual disorders.    
Bavani Shankar, vice president of corporate development of PsychoGenics, says her company made the first move toward the joint endeavor.  
 
"PsychoGenics approached AstraZeneca and introduced the company to the power of our proprietary drug discovery technologies," Shankar says. "After conducting a small exploratory study using this technology, AstraZeneca was impressed by our potential and approached us about working together in collaboration."  
 
Shankar believes the partnership bodes well for potential breakthroughs.
 
"PsychoGenics will use its proprietary drug discovery technology to screen AstraZeneca compounds and establish their potential to treat psychiatric disorders," Shankar says. "The potential of these compounds to treat psychiatric disorders and differentiate from current standard of care will be further evaluated in other in vivo assays by PsychoGenics. AstraZeneca will be responsible for taking their compounds forward into clinical development."
 
The company's discovery platform, SmartCube, "combines robotics, computer video capture and analysis (called computer vision) and bioinformatics to capture and analyze data that can be distilled into a 'behavioral signature' for a given compound," Shankar says.  
 
"SmartCube accurately detects the potential of compounds to treat psychiatric disorders. One key feature of these behavior-driven approaches is that they are agnostic to a compound's target or mechanism of action, allowing PsychoGenics to screen compounds," she says.  
 
Specific AstraZeneca targets to be evaluated will "not be publicly disclosed," Shankar says, adding only, "We are focusing on major unmet needs in psychiatric disorders."  
 
Dr. Frank Yocca, vice president and head of Research Area CNS & Pain at AstraZeneca R&D, says, "We are continuously seeking opportunities to collaborate with those who share our commitment to pursuing novel therapies. We are eager to start our work with PsychoGenics in this important area of research, and we are excited to be able to access their innovative technologies and to leverage their expertise in neurobiology. Our collaboration with PsychoGenics is a great example of how AstraZeneca is implementing its strategy of accessing the best science wherever it exists to complement our in-house efforts and to ensure we have a robust and sustainable pipeline."
 
"For patients suffering from psychiatric disorders, there is still a huge unmet medical need for treatments that deliver fast-onset, high-level symptom relief with fewer side effects," he says.  
 
PsychoGenics was founded in 1999 by Eric Nestler, a neuroscience professor and director of Mount Sinai Brain Institute, and company chairman Henry Jarecki. The privately held biotech, headquartered in Tarrytown, N.Y., has more than 140 employees in psychopharmacology, behavioral neurobiology, bioinformatics and computational chemistry.  
 
PsychoGenics offers more than 60 different behavioral tests used for identifying drug candidates to treat psychiatric, neurological, and cognitive disorders to more than 100 companies worldwide. These tests are offered as a fee-for-service, with no flow through royalties, milestones or intellectual property rights. All of the results and data generated belong to the client.    
 
The company's most advanced in-house drug candidate, eltoprazine, 5HT1A/1B recently completed Phase II clinical trials for ADHD and is being considered for additional indications (L-DOPA induced dyskinesia in Parkinson's patients and cognitive impairment associated with schizophrenia CIAS).  
 
PsychoGenics also has partnered with major pharmaceutical and biotech companies such as Lilly, Roche, Sepracor, Cephalon and Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma of Japan.



AstraZeneca inks $1.5 billion licensing deal with Nektar for two drugs  
 
WILMINGTON, Del.—AstraZeneca also announced in September that it has reached a potential $1.5 billion deal to license compounds from Nektar Therapeutics that could help patients suffering from one of the chief side effects of opioid pain relievers.   Nektar, a San Carlos, Calif.-based pharmaceutical company, is developing NKTR-118, an experimental drug for the treatment of opioid-related constipation. The company also has an early-stage drug development program to combine NKTR-118 with certain opioids, a class of painkillers that includes morphine, codeine and oxycodone.
 
AstraZeneca will pay Nektar an upfront payment of $125 million for the rights to both development programs. Nektar is also eligible to receive up to $235 million, depending on regulatory milestones, for NKTR-118, as well as sales milestone payments of up to $375 million, depending on the product's commercial success. The agreement gives AstraZeneca the right to develop multiple products combining NKTR-118 with existing opioids. For each of the first two such products, Nektar is eligible to receive up to $75 million for development milestones and up to $310 million for additional sales milestones.
 
In addition to the potential payments of more than $1.5 billion, Nektar is also entitled to "significant and escalating double-digit royalty payments" for any products that reach the market. AstraZeneca has responsibility for all research, development and commercialization costs and will control product development and commercialization decisions.
 
According to AstraZeneca, about 90 percent of patients who take opioids for chronic pain management experience constipation, and fewer than half find effective relief from current prescription and over-the-counter treatment options.
 
Code: E100922

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