BioWorld International Correspondent

Enkam Pharmaceuticals A/S, an early stage spin-off from Copenhagen University, is in the process of finalizing its first round of funding and is planning to commence a Phase I/II trial of its lead compound, a candidate treatment for Alzheimer's disease, late next year.

The company, which was formed in late 2000 and began operations in mid-2001, is based around the work of the Protein Laboratory, within the Institute of Molecular Pathology at Copenhagen University. Co-founder Elisabeth Bock, who heads up the laboratory, is one of Denmark's most senior scientists and a key coordinator of the university's effort to prioritize biotechnology research. (See BioWorld International, Aug. 20, 1997.)

The founding team also includes CEO Morten Albrechtsen, formerly area director for mainland Europe and South America at Nycomed Pharma, and Vladimir Berezin, professor of biochemistry at the Protein Laboratory. Chairman Jan Quistgaard is president and CEO of drug delivery firm Egalet A/S, of Vaerloese, Denmark.

Copenhagen-based Enkam's main focus is on neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM), a well-known protein found throughout the central nervous system. Albrechtsen said most work on this molecule has to date concentrated on its adhesion properties, which enable it to glue nerve cells together.

"You could more correctly characterize it as a receptor," he told BioWorld International. Enkam's scientific founders have studied its 3-dimensional structure for more than a decade, and say they have evidence - due for publication shortly - that it displays receptor activities associated with a range of functions, such as survival, differentiation and memory.

Albrechtsen said several domains within NCAM's structure are implicated in these activities, "much more than we had expected." Its knowledge of these domains forms the basis of its drug development strategy, which is focused initially on stroke, as well as Alzheimer's disease. "The pipeline of the company consists of a series of small peptides that have different effects on the NCAM receptor," he said. So far, it has generated eight such families, each containing 10 to 20 individual molecules that already have been selected for potentially promising activity on the basis of an initial screen.

It has fast-tracked development of its Alzheimer's candidate - FGLl - because of "surprisingly positive data" in preclinical studies. Its stroke program is still at the lead-optimization stage, Albrechtsen said. Enkam is looking to take its drug candidates through Phase I/II studies on a solo basis, but subsequently will look to big pharma for partnerships. The company is building up capabilities in clinical development and business development at present, Albrechtsen said. It has outsourced some of its scientific work to a team of about 30 researchers at Copenhagen University, while its own headcount comprises 10 employees.