Novo Nordisk has signed a $100 million deal with Australian biotech firm G2 Therapies to develop a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD). While the alliance should boost the fortunes of the relatively small biotech company and could aid Novo Nordisk in the potentially lucrative inflammation drugs market, a number of challenges lie ahead due to the nature of this market.
The deal surrounds a therapeutic antibody that has been shown to dramatically reduce inflammatory arthritis in mice. This treatment candidate has the potential to help patients suffering from other inflammatory diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, sepsis, heart attack and psoriasis, as well as transplant patients. The partnership will enable the therapy to be taken through to human clinical trials.
The deal is a promising one for both companies as the growing DMARDs market currently houses a number of blockbuster products. For example, currently available therapeutic antibodies include Amgen and Wyeth's Enbrel (etanercept), which is used in a number of inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and which generated sales of $2.6 billion in North America in 2005.
However, the market is not only growing but also evolving, and the G2 Therapies antibody may have drawbacks that could prevent it from achieving such huge sales. For instance, it is currently at a preclinical stage of development and could take between five and 10 years to reach the market, by which time cheaper and more convenient small molecule inhibitor may be available.
In addition, a statement released by professor Charles Mackay, founder of G2 Therapies, mentions that this treatment acts at a different, earlier point in the inflammatory process compared with current anti-inflammatory therapies. Although this may have a more potent effect on a disease like RA, it also indicates that the potential side effects could be numerous as, when a point early in the inflammatory pathway is inhibited, the number of other functions likely to be affected by that pathway increases.
Overall, this is a promising prospect for Novo Nordisk, but many challenges lie ahead in the development of the antibody as a therapeutic product, and competition will be fierce. The company therefore needs to implement a rapid and strategically effective plan for the drug candidate's development in order to succeed.