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Prolor May Seek Partner to Market Growth Hormone Product

Prolor Biotech Inc., an Israeli company developing improved versions of existing medicines, may seek a partner for its growth-hormone treatment as final trials are set to begin this year, President Shai Novik said.

The company, which yesterday raised $35 million through a share offering, has enough cash to conduct late-stage studies of the product, known as hGH-CTP, in adults with growth-hormone deficiency as well as mid-stage testing in children with the ailment, Novik said yesterday in an interview near Tel Aviv.

“Can we do it on our own? Yes,” Novik said. “However, when you look at the marketing and sales channels, it would make much more sense, even if we develop it on our own, to partner with someone, at least for distribution and marketing purposes.”

Prolor, based in Nes-Ziona, Israel, plans to tap a $3 billion human growth hormone market as it races to become the first to offer a longer-lasting version of human growth hormone that could be injected once weekly. Abnormally small children and adults with growth-hormone deficiency currently take daily injections of treatments such as Pfizer Inc.’s Genotropin, Novo Nordisk A/S’s Norditropin, and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Humatrope.

Prolor said on May 7 its mid-stage study of hGH-CTP in adults showed that a single injection could potentially replace seven consecutive daily injections of commercially available human growth hormone therapies.

‘Major Improvement’

“Prolor’s technology would be a major improvement and obviously a very attractive change for patients and physicians,” Bart Classen, an analyst at Summer Street Research Partners, said by telephone. “Any of the companies making short-acting hormone could be interested in buying them. There’s definitely a strong chance that the company will be acquired or partner up with a number of the larger companies who would have a natural interest in this product.”

Phillip Frost, chairman of generic-drug maker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., owns about 20 percent of Prolor. Teva, which paid $6.5 billion to acquire U.S. biotechnology company Cephalon Inc. last year, needs new sources of revenue as its top-selling treatment, a branded multiple-sclerosis medicine called Copaxone, faces increased competition.

More than 50,000 adults in the U.S. are growth-deficient and 6,000 new cases are reported each year, according to the Human Growth Foundation. Side effects of hormone deficiency can include increased fat mass, diminished muscle strength, physical energy and stamina.

Stock Gains

Prolor shares were little changed at $5.20 in New York yesterday. The company’s shares have risen 22 percent this year.

By attaching a small peptide named CTP to proteins, Prolor says it can significantly increase the longevity of treatments. The company is seeking to develop additional longer-lasting drugs in the fields of hemophilia, Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Merck & Co. in January 2010 won approval in Europe to sell a new fertility treatment known as Elonva, based on the CTP technology used by Prolor. Merck and Prolor are both licensees of the technology from Washington University in St. Louis. Merck has the exclusive license for use of the CTP technology with four fertility hormones while Prolor has the exclusive license to apply CTP to all other therapeutic proteins and peptides.

“The fact that Merck’s Elonva is already in the market is quite a straightforward validation of our technology,” said Novik.

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