By Jim Shrine

Metabolex Inc., a private company focused exclusively on diabetes, signed a five-year deal with Parke-Davis worth more than $50 million, if a drug is brought to market.

The companies plan to discover and develop drugs that counteract insulin secretion defects in Type II diabetes.

"This is a substantial program; the research is fully funded by Parke-Davis," Metabolex CEO Thomas Glaze told BioWorld Today. In addition to the research funding, the deal includes an up-front payment, equity investment and potential milestones, he said, adding that payments could exceed $50 million if a drug is taken through development.

Parke-Davis has worldwide development rights and Metabolex would get royalties on sales of products from the collaboration. Specific details were not disclosed.

"We've had a program going in this area for nearly two years," Glaze said. "We talked to several companies. In the end, it was Parke-Davis that found the program best fit with their needs. This is very complementary with their program for insulin resistance."

Parke-Davis, a division of Morris Plains, N.J.-based Warner-Lambert Co., markets Rezulin for treating insulin resistance. Metabolex, of Hayward, Calif., signed a deal in August 1997 with Abbott Laboratories, of Abbott Park, Ill., regarding insulin resistance, or the decreased ability of insulin to stimulate glucose transport to the muscle.

Metabolex's third collaboration is with Abbott's Ross Products Division, which is developing a nutritional supplement that would help diabetics control blood-glucose levels.

Glaze said the insulin secretion defect is the second major defect in Type II diabetics (the first being insulin resistance). "The goal of the project with Parke-Davis is to develop drugs that will counteract the insulin secretion defects in a variety of ways," he said.

In the early stages of the disease, he said, beta cells are required to produce high levels of insulin. As time goes on, beta cells lose their ability to produce the oversupply, as the mass of beta cells decreases, either because they die off too fast or fail to replicate fast enough.

Three areas Metabolex will look to control, Glaze said, are the synthesis of insulin; secretion of insulin; and the birth and death of beta cells.

"We have three major worldwide diabetes collaborations," Glaze said. "That's more than any other company in diabetes. It's a validation of our science and strategic approach, which is a broad focus on the fundamental biology of the disease."

The deals with Abbott were announced in conjunction with a $33.5 million financing. In July 1998, the company raised more than $8 million in a fourth financing round. (See BioWorld Today, June 26, 1997, p. 1.)

Metabolex's research efforts rely heavily on genomics. "It is a fundamental element to the unraveling of the biology of the disease," Glaze said. "We're also strong in signal transduction, cell biology and a lot of tools that relate to that."

The company has other diabetes programs in earlier stages that could mature into partnering opportunities in a year or two, Glaze said. Ultimately, Metabolex could develop a broader interest in related metabolic diseases, but for now it is limiting its focus to diabetes, he added. *