Liveblogging First-Time Disclosures of Drug Structures from #ACSNOLA
Apr04

Liveblogging First-Time Disclosures of Drug Structures from #ACSNOLA

Bookmark this page now, folks. On Wednesday, April 10, I will be here, liveblogging the public debut of five drug candidates' structures. The "First Time Disclosures" Session at the ACS National Meeting in New Orleans runs from 2PM-4:55PM Central time. I am not able to conjure up a permalink to the session program, so here's a screengrab instead. 1:20PM I'm in hall R02, where the session's set to begin in about 40 minutes. Found a seat with a power outlet nearby, so I'm good to go! 2:29PM BMS-906024 Company: Bristol-Myers Squibb Meant to treat: cancers including breast, lung, colon, and leukemia Mode of action: pan-Notch inhibitor Medicinal chemistry tidbit: The BMS team used an oxidative enolate heterocoupling en route to the candidate-- a procedure from Phil Baran's lab at Scripps Research Institute. JACS 130, 11546 Status in the pipeline: Phase I Relevant documents: WO 2012/129353 3:02PM LGX818 Company: Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research and Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation Meant to treat: melanoma with a specific mutation in B-RAF kinase: V600E Mode of action: selective mutant B-RAF kinase inhibitor Status in the pipeline: Phase Ib/II Relevant documents: WO 2011/023773 ; WO 2011/025927 3:47PM AZD5423 Company: AstraZeneca Meant to treat: respiratory diseases, in particular chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Mode of action: non-steroidal glucocorticoid receptor modulators Medicinal chemistry tidbit: This compound originated in part from a collaboration with Bayer Pharma. Status in the pipeline: Phase II Relevant documents: WO 2011/061527 ; WO 2010/008341 ; WO 2009/142568 4:17PM Birinapant (formerly known as TL32711) Company: TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals Meant to treat: cancer Mode of action: blocks the inhibitor of apoptosis proteins to reinstate cancer cell death Status in the pipeline: Phase II Relevant documents: US 8,283,372 5:00PM MGL-3196 (previously VIA-3196) Company: Madrigal Pharmaceuticals, acquired from VIA Pharmaceuticals, licensed from Roche Meant to treat: high cholesterol/high triglycerides Mode of action: mimics thyroid hormone, targeted to thyroid hormone receptor beta in the liver Medicinal chemistry tidbit: this molecule was discovered at Roche's now-shuttered Nutley site. Status in the pipeline: completed Phase I trials Relevant documents: WO 2007/009913 ; WO 2009/037172 And that's it, folks! Watch the April 22nd issue of C&EN for more on this...

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GSK’s R&D Review: Successes & Lessons Learned
Feb08

GSK’s R&D Review: Successes & Lessons Learned

Three years after reorganizing its discovery research activities into small, multi-disciplinary units, GlaxoSmithKline is providing a first peek at how its new approach to R&D is faring. A healthy chunk of its year-end earnings presentation yesterday was devoted to discussing the productivity of its research engine, and what can be expected out of its labs in the next three years. As we described, the goal of its 2008 revamp was to create a biotech-like, entrepreneurial feel within the walls of a big pharma firm: After being one of the first drug companies to create research hubs, or what it calls “centers of excellence in drug discovery,” GSK last year created “discovery performance units” (DPUs) within each hub. Each of the 38 DPUs operating now has a multidisciplinary team of up to 60 scientists focusing on a therapeutic area, a disease pathway, or some aspect of basic biology. GSK also formed a “discovery investment board” that makes funding decisions for the research projects in each DPU. The idea is to bring diverse perspectives on the merits of each project: In addition to [GSK R&D head] Slaoui, the board includes a biotech company CEO, a senior public health official, and GSK’s heads of drug discovery, late-stage development, and business development. DPUs are intended to operate like a biotech company housed in a big pharma firm. Much as a biotech gets funded by venture capitalists, a DPU receives an initial bolus of money and then extra cash when certain project goals are met. Each DPU had an initial review after a year of operation and will undergo another review this month, the 18-month check point. The board meets a last time at the three-year mark. GSK says there are clear signs that the DPU approach is working. Although the company is spending less on R&D and has raised the bar for moving a drug candidate into late-stage development, it has increased the number of molecules in its late-stage pipeline, Patrick Vallance, GSK's president of R&D told the Haystack. Under the new R&D regime, 22 molecules have moved into late-stage development, and Vallance wants to see 30 molecules pushed forward in the next three years. And in what Vallance believes is a sign that scientists are becoming more ambitious and attempting to do genuinely novel early research, roughly 17 publications in came out of GSK’s labs last year. Prior to the DPU approach, basically no papers were being submitted to prestigious journals, he says. The board, which had its final review in November, decided to shut down three DPUs, and create four new DPUs. Funding for six existing DPUs was upped by more...

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Pharma & Biotech Job Cuts Mount in 2012
Feb03

Pharma & Biotech Job Cuts Mount in 2012

For those keeping track, yesterday’s layoffs at AstraZeneca add to an already substantial list of cuts in the pharma and biotech industries since the beginning of the year. By our tally, nearly 13,000 job cuts, many in R&D, have been announced so far--and we're barely into February. Here’s where we’re at (and do let us know if we've missed any): --AstraZeneca is chopping 7,300 jobs, including 2,200 R&D positions, by 2014. Neuroscience research is being revamped and focused on external partnerships; the company’s Montreal R&D site will be shuttered, and research activities ended at its Södertälje site in Sweden. --Genzyme gave the pink slip to an unspecified number of R&D scientists this week. The layoffs come as Sanofi integrates its big biotech acquisition. --Alnylam is trimming 61 jobs, or 33% of its workforce, in order to save roughly $20 million this year. --BioSante Pharmaceuticals is shedding 25% of its staff, or 21 employees and contractors, after disappointing Phase III results for its female sexual dysfunction treatment LibiGel. --Takeda is axing 2,800 jobs, or 9% of its workforce, following its acquisition of Swiss drugmaker Nycomed. The bulk of the layoffs, which cut across R&D, commercial, operations, and administrative positions, will occur in Europe. --Novartis unveiled plans to shed some 1,960 positions in the U.S. as it braces for generic competition for Diovan, a blood pressure medicine that brought in more than $6 billion in 2010, and an expected drop in demand for its renin inhibitor Rasilez following questions about the drug’s safety. --Human Genome Sciences said it would cut 150 jobs, or about 14% of its workforce, in a move that affects manufacturing, R&D, and administrative activities. --Xoma is shedding 84 workers, or 34% of its staff, as it shifts to outsourcing late-stage and commercial manufacturing, as well as some research. --SkyePharma is cutting 20% of the 101 employees at its site in Muttenz, Switzerland. --Sanofi plans to layoff 100 workers at its Monteal site as part of an overhaul of its Canadian operations. --J&J will trim 126 workers as it closes its Monreal R&D...

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AstraZeneca to Shed 2,200 R&D Jobs
Feb02

AstraZeneca to Shed 2,200 R&D Jobs

AstraZeneca wielded a heavy ax to its workforce today as it prepares for tougher times ahead. The British-Swedish drugmaker is chopping 7,300 jobs, including 2,200 R&D positions, in hopes of achieving $1.6 billion in annual cost savings by 2014. This is the third round of major cutbacks at AstraZeneca. In 2010, the company announced plans to slash 8,000 jobs over four years, a move that added to the elimination of 15,000 jobs between 2007 and 2009. This specific round girds against an onslaught of generic competition for key products and accounts for several disappointments in the company's late-stage pipeline. In the coming months, the company will lose patent protection in various markets for the anti-psychotic Seroquel IR, the anti-cholesterol drug Crestor, and the blood thinner Atacand. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca’s late-stage pipeline has faltered. The recent setbacks (adding to earlier ones) include ending development of the PARP inhibitor olaparib, which prompted it to take a $285 million charge; a failed Phase III trial for the antidepressant TC-5214; and a thumbs down from FDA last month for dapagliflozin, a Type II diabetes drug being developed with Bristol-Myers Squibb. R&D has taken a heavy hit in each round of cuts. During the Q&A session following AstraZeneca’s earnings presentation, one analyst said his back of the envelope calculations suggest the company will have shed 7,600 R&D jobs between 2006 and 2014. Based on comments by AstraZeneca’s R&D chief Martin Mackay, small molecule research has born the brunt of those cuts. He noted that headcount in biologics research has grown, and pointed out that biologics now account for 40% of the company’s early-stage pipeline (candidates in studies earlier than Phase II), up from 15-20% in recent years. The latest R&D revamp will be primarily focused on AstraZeneca’s neuroscience activities, where the risk of investment is seen as particularly high. “It’s a really tough area,” Mackay said.  “The industry hasn’t produced enough and we haven’t produced enough.” The challenge was highlighted in November, when TC-5214, an anti-depressant being developed by Targacept and AstraZeneca, failed to show benefit in a Phase III trial. The bad news came as a surprise, as TC-5214 had demonstrated strong efficacy in smaller trials. Three other Phase III trials are underway, but analysts are skeptical that the program can be salvaged. “Prospects appear grim,” Leerink Swann analyst Joshua Schimmer said in a note last month. AstraZeneca is creating a small team of 40 to 50 scientists that will work with external partners in academia and industry to discover and develop neuroscience drugs. The adoption of this new strategy means that the company’s Montreal R&D facility will be shuttered, and it will end R&D at its Södertälje site in Sweden....

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Tweaking A Workhorse Anesthetic
Aug22

Tweaking A Workhorse Anesthetic

In this week’s issue of C&EN, I’ve written about the search for new anesthetic drugs, as well as the accompanying quest for a better understanding of how anesthetics work. Anesthesia is safer than it’s ever been because highly trained physicians and nurses can manage its complications. The drive to improve anesthetics is nowhere near as strong as it is for other drug classes such as oncology drugs, as Imperial College biophysicist Nick Franks told me. But that doesn’t mean the drugs in use are perfect. Take propofol, or 2,6-diisopropylphenol, which is marketed as Diprivan by AstraZeneca. It’s arguably the most commonly used injectable anesthetic for surgeries in developed nations. It even has a nickname around the operating room, “milk of amnesia”, because of its effects on memory, and because of the milky appearance the sparingly water soluble compound takes on in the oil-water emulsion needed to deliver it to the bloodstream. But propofol has side effects. Several firms have made adjustments to propofol or its formulation in order to address the limitations, and they’re finding out whether those chemical tweaks translate into benefits for patients. For example, researchers at PharmacoFore, a privately-held biopharmaceutical company in San Carlos, Calif., reasoned that small changes to propofol’s structure might cut down on the pain experienced when propofol is injected. Anesthesiologists often use a topical numbing agent such as lidocaine to alleviate this pain. Work from other researchers suggested that the low concentration of propofol in the aqueous phase of the oil-water emulsion acts directly on a receptor on the inside of blood vessel walls to cause pain, says Thomas E. Jenkins, PharmacoFore’s chief scientific officer. “Short and sweet, our strategy was to make propofol more lipophilic,” in order to further reduce the concentration of the drug in the aqueous phase, the portion thought to be responsible for the pain, Jenkins says. PharmacoFore’s chemists also tried to leverage the concept that a single stereoisomer of a molecule can have pharmacological properties different from those of a mixture of stereoisomers. They investigated specific stereoisomers of 2,6-di-sec-butylphenol, which is more hydrophobic than propofol. The racemic version of this compound was similar enough to propofol that it hadn’t escaped chemists’ notice in the past- its anesthetic properties were evaluated in the 1980’s by the company that developed propofol itself (J. Med. Chem., DOI: 10.1021/jm00186a013). PharmacoFore evaluated a specific stereoisomer, (R, R)-2,6-di-sec-butylphenol (PF0713), in a phase I clinical study. In that study, PF0713 rapidly induced general anesthesia without injection pain and with minimal drop in blood pressure (blood pressure lowering is another known side effect of propofol). In addition, data from a preclinical study in rats combined...

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