BioWorld International Correspondent

When Biovitrum AB decided it needed to find a partner with additional expertise in protease inhibition for one of its diabetes drug programs, it didn't have to look very far. The Stockholm, Sweden-based company forged an agreement with Medivir AB, which is located in Huddinge on the southern outskirts of the Swedish capital.

Terms were not disclosed, but the companies will share ownership of the program, said Johan Kördel, senior vice president of business development at Biovitrum. The program in question already had reached lead optimization stage, he said, but Biovitrum decided it needed to explore additional chemical classes before moving it into the clinic. "Being from a big pharma background, we're nervous and we'd like some additional shots at goal, if you will," he said.

Part of the problem is finding protease inhibitors with sufficient selectivity, so they don't cause serious side effects. Lack of selectivity, combined with the multiple physiological roles of many protease enzymes, likely is to account for the adverse events with existing protease inhibitors, Kördel said, such as the development of hyperglycemia in some HIV patients. "When it comes to proteases, I think most companies are stumbling a little bit," he said.

Biovitrum has not disclosed the protease target involved, but it plays a housekeeping role in a signaling process linked to insulin resistance.

"In this particular case, what we're trying to do is close down a pathway," Kördel said, adding that Biovitrum does not have a proprietary position with respect to the target, but it is not aware of other firms working in the field.

"It's distinctly different from the one we're working on with Amgen," he said.

That program, which is focused on finding small-molecule inhibitors of 11-beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-1, hit a bump earlier this year when the lead compound BVT.3498 failed to reach its primary endpoint in a Phase IIa trial. The failure might have been due to the short duration of the trial, Kördel said. Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif., has yet to disclose whether it plans to undertake additional studies of the compound or to move ahead with backup molecules.

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