MDRNA and the Obesity Drug Quest

It looks like MDRNA thinks there’s still life left in the idea of a nasal spray that staves off hunger. The company said today it has been granted patents covering formulations for the intranasal delivery of Y2-receptor selective agonists. Those following pharma’s quest for obesity drugs might best recognize PYY, one member of the Y2-receptor selective agonist family that generated a lot of interest a few years back.

PYY is a naturally-occurring hormone released by cells in the gastrointestinal tract after eating to signal a feeling of satiety. Studies have shown that obese people secrete less of the hormone than a person of healthy weight, suggesting amping up its levels could lead to weight loss.

The hormone made headlines in 2003, when researchers published a small study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that giving a 90-minute infusion of PYY reduced caloric consumption at a later meal by 30%. But as an obesity drug, a 90-minute infusion is not going to fly.

In stepped Nastech Pharmaceuticals, MDRNA’s predecessor, which developed an intranasal spray to deliver PYY. A quick puff before meals and people would be good to go. That was the theory, at least. The method was intriguing enough to attract Merck, which in 2004 signed up to develop the drug, then in Phase I trials, for $5 million upfront, and the promise of $331 million more if the drug reached the market. But when early Phase II data looked less than stellar, Merck pulled out of the deal just a year and half later.

MDRNA confirmed the nasal spray did not work in 2008, when the full results of a Phase II trial were revealed. At the time, the company said it was successfully getting the peptide into the body, but said that “the peptide itself is not effective as a single agent for weight loss.”

So, what to make of today’s patent filings? Since renaming itself MDRNA in 2008, the company has focused on developing RNAi delivery technology, not peptide-based obesity drugs. Apparently it thinks this asset still has value, but to what end? Are they now looking at a different member of the PYY family? Does anyone think this approach still has legs?

Author: Lisa Jarvis

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