Biotie Considers Developing Alzheimer’s Drug on Its Own

Biotie Therapies Oyj, the developer of an anti-alcoholism medicine with H. Lundbeck A/S, may forgo a partnership for an experimental Alzheimer’s drug following positive data on a U.S. treatment that uses a similar mechanism.

Biotie, which has been in talks with several drugmakers to cooperate on its SYN120 product, is reconsidering the strategy after Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc. reported success in late-stage studies of the pimavanserin treatment for Parkinson’s disease-related psychosis, Chief Executive Officer Timo Veromaa said in an interview in London. Keeping the drug could eventually yield more revenue for Biotie, he said.

SYN120 is designed to improve cognition in Alzheimer’s patients by blocking 5-HT6 receptors in the brain, which results in increased concentrations of acetylcholine and glutamate, chemicals that aid learning and memory processes, according to Turku, Finland-based Biotie. SYN120 also has the ability to block the 5-HT2A receptor, which Acadia’s pimavanserin targets, Veromaa said.

“This has led to an internal debate as to whether this is a compound that we should rather hold onto and develop on our own,” Veromaa said. “In today’s market, just licensing out is not the value proposition that the big-ticket investors are looking for.”

Acadia’s Jump

Acadia’s stock price has more than doubled since Nov. 26, the day before the San Diego-based drugmaker released results from the pimavanserin trial. The company said on Dec. 12 that it raised an additional $86 million in a share sale to fund completion of late-stage clinical tests without a partner.

Biotie’s SYN120 may have commercial potential for use by a subset of patients with Parkinson’s disease or schizophrenia, in addition to relieving Alzheimer’s, Veromaa said in the Jan. 18 interview. Biotie will decide how to proceed by the end of the first half, he said.

“The company is now at a stage, with a substantial cash balance and a number of very late-stage successfully partnered programs, where taking more of the development in house should bring more rewards,” said Otello Stampacchia, managing partner of Omega Funds and a Biotie investor.

Advancing the development of SYN120 alone would also make Biotie more attractive as a takeover target for companies focused on neurological disorders, such as Lundbeck and UCB SA, he said.

Biotie shares rose 2.3 percent to 44 euro cents as of 2:02 p.m. in Helsinki, paring their decline in the past 12 months to 14 percent.

UCB Partnership

The company is also awaiting an announcement from partner UCB this quarter on next steps for their experimental medicine SYN115 for Parkinson’s disease, which the company said last month showed “highly significant” effects on symptoms in a mid-stage study.

The size of the study and data quality makes the mid-stage trial likely to be considered as part of late-stage testing on efficacy needed for regulatory approval, Veromaa said.

Separately, Biotie may terminate a development program for ronomilast to treat respiratory disease, a medicine the company acquired through its purchase of Elbion GmbH in 2008, he said. The drug had been positioned as a better version of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.’s Daxas, with the same PDE4 inhibitor mechanism of action and fewer side effects, particularly nausea.

In discussions with potential partners, “there has not been much appetite for an improved Daxas,” Veromaa said. “PDE4s come with a lot of baggage.”

Potential Target

Biotie, which is always considering acquisition opportunities, isn’t currently in any active discussions on buying other companies, and could at some point become a takeover target itself, Veromaa said.

Commercial success for Selincro, the anti-alcoholism drug approved by European Union regulators last month, may prompt Copenhagen-based Lundbeck to decide that acquiring the Finnish company would be preferable to making royalty payments, he said. Similarly, if SYN115 comes close to receiving regulatory approval, UCB may opt to buy out Biotie, he said.

“One might consider that we have two potential existing suitors,” Veromaa said. “But there’s a few years to go.”

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