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GSK signs obesity research deal with Vanderbilt University

Follows increased push from pharma to tackle the public health challenge

GSK

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has formed a research partnership with Vanderbilt University in the US to develop treatments for severe obesity.

The deal is the second research collaboration to be agreed under GSK's Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) programme, which was launched in 2011 to bring together the work of academic scientists with that carried out by GSK researchers.

The latest deal with Tennessee-based Vanderbilt will see GSK increase its efforts in tackling one of the developed world's biggest public health challenges, with obesity now an increasingly promising target following several safety incidents in the 1990s.

Just last year, two obesity treatments reached the market in the US – Vivus' Qsymia (phentermine/topiramate) and Eisai/Arena's Belviq (lorcaserin HCl) – both of which work by increasing feelings of satiety and reducing appetite.

GSK and Vanderbilt's research will follow a slightly different tact however, with the organisations looking towards a genetic cause by targeting the melanocortin-4 (MC4) receptor, which is involved in the balance of food intake and energy expenditure, as well as the regulation of body weight.

According to Vanderbilt, up to 5 percent of cases of severe, early-onset obesity have been linked to heterozygous mutations in MC4-R.

These mutations can reduce signalling of the melanocortin to less than half its normal function, causing a person to put on weight.

There have been previous experiments investigating drugs that directly activate a person's MC4 receptors, but safety issues concerning their effect on blood pressure have meant further development has not been viable.

With support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Vanderbilt's research has involved compounds called positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) that only increase MC4 activity rather than directly activate its receptors, which should mean an increase in blood pressure is less likely, according to the university.

As part of the deal with GSK, Vanderbilt will do the pharmacology and pre-clinical testing of these compounds, while GSK scientists will try to develop chemically similar compounds with improved activity and efficacy.

It is expected that a promising PAM compound will begin phase-1 testing in humans within three years.

Specific financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but GSK will provide research support to Vanderbilt for three years, as well as additional milestone payments and a share of royalties.

12th February 2013

From: Research

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