BioWorld International Correspondent

Biovitrum AB entered its first major commercial alliance, a deal potentially worth up to US$150 million with GlaxoSmithKline plc to develop and commercialize its collection of proprietary 5-hydroxytryptamine 2C receptor agonists for the treatment of obesity and other indications.

The lead compound in this program, the appetite suppressant BVT.933, is on course to enter a Phase IIb study early next year.

The overall value of the deal could be much higher, as Stockholm, Sweden-based Biovitrum would receive additional milestones if compounds for treating indications other than obesity enter clinical development. It also would receive royalties on all product sales.

"This is in line with our business model; for potential blockbuster products we need big pharma partners," Biovitrum CEO Mats Pettersson told BioWorld International.

The morale boost, he said, was as important as the cash element of the deal. "This is a very important deal because it validates our organization, our skills, the science we have and the ideas we have had for a long time," he said.

Biovitrum inherited the 5-HT2C program when it was spun out of Peapack, N.J.-based Pharmacia last year. 5-HT receptors, a subclass of the G protein-coupled receptor superfamily, bind the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), which is involved in a range of physiological pathways in the central nervous system and intestine. The companies, Pettersson said, will establish a joint committee to investigate other potential indications for the collection of drug candidates.

The deal adds an even rosier complexion to Biovitrum's finances, which already enjoy ruddy health. Although its annual R&D budget is $70 million, its net cash burn is around $12 million because of a revenue stream it derives from the supply of ReFacto, a recombinant form of the blood-clotting agent Factor VIII, to Wyeth, of Madison, N.J., and research services it supplies to that company and to Pharmacia. It raised in excess of $100 million at founding and gained an undisclosed sum through the disposal of its plasma products business to Octapharma AG, of Lachen, Switzerland, earlier this year.

Pettersson said the company may use some of its cash to build a position in oncology, a second disease area on which it is planning to focus. For the time being, however, metabolic disease remains its principal domain. Its novel Type II diabetes mellitus candidate treatment, BVT.3498, an inhibitor of the liver enzyme 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, is due to enter a Phase IIa trial early next year.

"We call that our jewel in the crown," Pettersson said. A third compound, BVT.5182, which demonstrated weight reduction in models of obesity, is due to enter the clinic in the new year, as well.