Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Competitive Landscape’

The February 2011 issue of Nature Reviews Drug Discovery has an interesting review by Kawai, Mödder and colleagues on “Emerging therapeutic opportunities for skeletal restoration.”

Some of the new products they discuss include:

  1. Parathyroid Hormone-Related protein (PTHRP)
  2. Cathepsin K Inhibitors: odanacatib
  3. Wnt-ß-catenin pathway targets: sclerostin, DKK1 antagonists, lithium.

The market opportunity for osteoporosis remains significant, affecting 44 million people in the United States over the age of 50, resulting in healthcare costs in excess of $15 billion a year; numbers that are set to increase with the ageing population of baby boomers.  The low bone mineral density (BMD) associated with osteoporosis results in increased risk of hip fracture, from which the mortality rate is 20-30% in the first year.

The current competitive landscape for osteoporosis includes antiresorptive agents such as the bisphosponates (alendronate, risedronate, ibandronate, zoledronic acid) that inhibit bone resorption.  These compounds reduce fracture-risk by 20-30%, but long-term safety issues remain a concern.  High doses of zoledronic acid (Zometa) has been linked to osteonecrosis of the jaw (see previous blog post).

Amgen’s new monoclonal antibody, denosumab, binds to RANK-L, thereby inhibiting its action, with the result that osteoclasts (the cells responsible for bone resorption) cannot form, function or survive.  The result of this mechanism of action is a reduction in bone loss and bone destruction.

Like zoledronic acid, denosumab also has a risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw developing.  However, one additional long-term safety issue for denosumab is the fact it suppresses TRAIL (tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand) that is not only produced by osteoblasts (the cells responsible for bone formation), but also by immune cells.  This raises the possibility of skin and immune adverse events, which were seen in the clinical trial data.

Kawai & Mödder in their review article conclude that:

“There is still a need for therapies that reduce fracture risk beyond the level achievable with bone-resorbing agents, particularly as virtually all of the currently available drugs do not eliminate the possibility of future fractures.”

However in addition to having a market opportunity and scientific rationale, any biotechnology company looking at osteoporosis as part of their marketing strategy, must face up to the increasing ethical concerns over placebo-controlled clinical trials.  This topic was highlighted last year in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the future there is likely to be increased pressure not to recruit subjects at high-risk of osteoporosis (T score less than -2.5) into placebo-controlled trials, thus increasing the costs, number of patients and time to bring new products to market.  In addition, the regulatory barriers to entry are becoming higher, given that regulatory agencies require a reduction in fractures over 3 years to establish the efficacy of a new drug.  This ultimately results in the need for large, expensive, and long phase III clinical trials.

In forthcoming posts, I will discuss the opportunities for market entry by new osteoporosis drugs targeting the Wnt- ß-catenin pathway, Cathepsin K inhibitors and Parathyroid hormone-related protein.

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I was in Austin last week for a business meeting (spot the snow around the State Capitol) and was interested to learn that Austin, TX is an emerging and growing biotechnology cluster.

Michael Porter in the Harvard Business Review has written about the importance of clusters of interconnected companies, universities, suppliers and service providers and how these drive increased productivity, innovation and stimulate further new businesses.  An important contributor of growth and economic development is the pool of talented workers that develops and is attracted to the local area around the cluster.

Despite being better known for its high tech companies such as Dell, and as the “live music capital of the world”, there is an emerging biotech cluster around Austin. Austin boasts warm winter weather (most of the time), proximity to the flagship University of Texas at Austin, and the incentives of a tax friendly, State of Texas (no personal or corporate taxation).

According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, there are now more than 100 companies in the areas of research, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. These include Abbott Spine, Arthrocare Corp, Agilent, Alk-Abello, Asuragen, Luminex, Viagen and Zimmer Biologics. Although the University of Texas at Austin lacks a medical school, MD Anderson established a Science Park for basic and translational cancer research in the area.  This reminds me of similar facilities in La Jolla.

The University of Texas at Austin also provides a growing pool of educated workers, and I see the convergence of information technology in drug discovery, as where the many IT graduates with an interest in life sciences, can have an important role to play.  Bioinformatics and computational biology is becoming increasing important in cancer research, for example.

The University, like many others, provides an incubator for technology start-ups that has raised over $725M in funding.  You can read about the important role incubators have to play in the development of biotechnology companies in Christopher Pirie’s interesting article in the MIT Entrepreneurship Review).

However, what cements my view that Austin is an emerging cluster, is the fact that growing start-up companies are now choosing to relocate to Austin, rather than move to more established biotech areas such as Boston or Seattle.  Pain Therapeutics Inc. a San Mateo, CA company announced in October last year they would be moving to Austin by the end of 2011 and planned to hire 50-100 employees in Research & Development.  As more companies move to the Austin area, this trend is likely to continue.

If you are a growing, biotech start-up company, Austin should be on your radar of potential areas to build your business.


Inspire Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ISPH), a North Carolina based biopharmaceutical company that focuses on products for ophthalmic and pulmonary diseases, recently announced positive results from their phase 3 trial (TIGER-1) of denufosol tetrasodium in patients with Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disorder that can lead to death as a result of pulmonary complications from airway obstruction, bronchial thickening and accumulation of mucous.  Lung function tests are widely used in the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with CF.  Measurement of FEV1 (Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 second) is regarded as the best predicator of mortality.  As the disease progresses and the lungs become more obstructed, FEV1 decreases.

Inspire Pharma’s denufosol is an ion-channel regulator that helps keep the airways moist and helps mucous removal in CF patients.  It increases chloride secretion via calcium-activated chloride  channels (CaCCs), inhibits sodium absorption via epithelial sodium channels (ENaCs) and stimulates ciliary beat frequency.  Conveniently for patients, it is being developed as an inhaled drug delivered direct to the lungs by nebulizer.

The phase 3 clinical trial data presented by Dr Frank Accurso at the Annual North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference, and in the paper published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM), showed an improvement in lung function after 24 weeks in patients with mild CF who received daily denusofol by means of a nebulizer.  The primary efficacy endpoint was a change in FEV1:

Source: October 21, 2010 presentation by Frank J. Accurso M.D. to North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference.  Available at Inspire Pharma.

Dr Accurso and his colleagues reported that the results demonstrated:

“Mean change from baseline to Week 24 endpoint in expiratory volume at 1 second (primary efficacy endpoint) was 0.048 L for denufosol (n=178) and 0.003 L for placebo (n=174; P=0.047).”

Despite the significant improvement in FEV1, there was no significant difference between the denufosol and placebo arms in the time to progression to first pulmonary exacerbation, suggesting that its long-term clinical effectiveness remains uncertain.

Source: October 21, 2010 presentation by Frank J. Accurso M.D. to North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference.  Available at Inspire Pharma.

Notwithstanding, these results do offer hope to patients with mild symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis.  Early treatment to maintain lung function may delay the onset of more severe physiological changes and the need for more radical treatment options such as a heart/lung transplant.

Thanks to BBC Health for writing about this topic and giving me the idea for this post.

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