BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Biocortech SAS signed a collaboration agreement with the International Research Institute of the French pharmaceutical company Servier for the discovery and development of drugs to treat central nervous system disorders.

The companies' joint research program will be based on Biocortech's know-how in the identification of new classes of compounds able to restore pathways that are deficient in those pathologies.

Servier, of Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, will be responsible for the pharmacological testing and clinical development of drug candidates that may emerge from this collaboration, up to the stage of filing for international regulatory and marketing approval.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and the CEO of Biocortech, Dinah Weissman, told BioWorld International that the provenance of the compounds involved in the collaboration also remained confidential.

Paris-based Biocortech is developing compounds capable of restoring specific gene expression in deficient aminergic pathways and of modulating the efficacy of neuronal receptors through the regulation of mRNA editing processes. It has developed two drug-screening platforms: TOP (to measure protein expression in the central nervous system), and EDIT (for the modulation of mRNA editing mechanisms, especially 5HT2C and AMPA receptors). They are designed to identify drug candidates that are active in the physio-pathological environment and have mechanisms of action that do not suffer from the limitations of existing antidepressants.

While it is focusing its research on several CNS diseases, including depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and cognitive deficits, Biocortech's core technology is centered on the main neuronal pathway involved in depression, which is deficient/quiescent in patients with a hypo-functionality of the prefrontal cortex. The company said the functionality of the pathway can be pharmacologically restored by small-molecule drugs that increase the capacity of expression of neurotransmitters and improve the signal transmission in the quiescent pathways present in pathological brains.

Biocortech said its approach has demonstrated the potential to provide clinical benefit to the high proportion of patients who are resistant to currently available therapies. In the case of depression, Biocortech said that around 40 percent of the 50 million sufferers in developed countries do not respond to existing treatments and that 10 percent to 30 percent of them are drug resistant.

The company's lead compound is BC19, which is at the preclinical development stage for unspecified CNS disorders. Biocortech already has established proof of concept for the compound in a Phase II trial on drug-resistant depressed patients conducted in collaboration with a pharmaceutical company and has patented it for CNS applications. Weissman said preclinical studies would be completed in 2007, and a Phase I trial would probably be initiated in 2008. She explained that the company would develop the compound itself "if we have sufficient funds," but would partner it out if not.

The company has four other compounds in its pipeline, one of which is at the preclinical stage, one at the lead optimization stage and two at the hit selection stage. As well as its in-house research programs, the company performs fee-for-service activities using its TOP and EDIT screening platforms.

Biocortech was founded at the end of 2001 and still is based at the Biotop, the biotechnology incubator of the Institut Pasteur in Paris. However, Weissman said the company would be moving out of the incubator and into its own place at year-end. She explained that the company had been funded up to now entirely by business angels (mostly from the U.S.) and out of income from collaborations with pharmaceutical companies, but declined to give any indication of its future funding plans. The company currently has a work force of eight. n