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Takeda enlists GE's aid to tackle liver fibrosis epidemic

Non-alcoholic liver disease has doubled in the last 20 years

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Japanese pharma company Takeda has teamed up with GE Healthcare to find new drugs for non-alcoholic liver diseases, which have doubled in prevalence in the last 20 years.

The two companies have joined forces to find new diagnostic and treatment approaches to diseases characterised by fibrosis of the liver, which include non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Takeda's R&D programmes in liver disease are still in the early stages - there are no drugs for NAFLD or NASH listed in its most recent clinical pipeline - but the company believes a diagnostic technology developed by GE could accelerate its efforts.

A GE-developed medical imaging technology called MR elastography can be used to map the hardening of liver tissue - an early warning signal for liver fibrosis - in a non-invasive manner. At the moment liver fibrosis can only be detected by inserting a needle into the liver and taking a biopsy.

The main characteristic of GE's technology is its ability to distinguish and differentiate - using a colour image - the relative stiffness of tissue (see main image).

With major strides forward being made in the treatment of hepatitis C, non-alcoholic liver diseases are emerging as a major new target for the pharma industry. On its own, NAFLD represents a 100 million patient population among industrialised nations, with the incidence driven by aging populations and unhealthy lifestyles. It is predicted to become a multi-billion dollar market.

"This alliance will assist efforts to develop new therapeutic options that ease the burden on the patient," commented Takeda's chief scientific officer Tadataka Yamada.

Takeda is playing catch-up in the liver fibrosis race, with rivals such as Gilead Sciences, Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Galectin Therapeutics and Genfit already having compounds in the clinic.

Gilead's simtuzumab is in phase II testing in NASH, while Intercept's obeticholic acid candidate has just cleared a phase II trial and will enter phase III in 2015. France's Genfit has GFT505 in phase IIb trials for NASH while Galectin's GM-MD-02 for NAFLD is in phase I.

Meanwhile InterMune, which has been bought by Roche for $8bn, has said it has a pipeline of drugs with potential in liver and kidney fibrosis to go alongside Esbriet (pirfenidone), which is already approved to treat fibrosis in the lungs.

Article by
Phil Taylor

12th November 2014

From: Research, Healthcare

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