A test that assesses Tysabri’s risk of causing potentially deadly side effects could boost demand of the multiple sclerosis drug, GlaxoSmithKline is not ready to talk about efforts to develop a successor to best selling asthma medicine Advair and RTI International researchers will try to make biomass “oil.”
Testing Tysabri’s risks
The scientist who was instrumental in developing Tysabri has come up with a test to identify patients at risk of getting a potentially deadly brain infection known as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML.
Since 2005, Tysabri has been linked to 23 PML cases worldwide, that’s about 1 in 400 patients who received the drug. Four patients have died.
Elan, an Irish company that developed the drug, and Boston-based Biogen Idec, which makes it at its Research Triangle Park plant, maintain PML is rare. But patients and investors are getting worried – particularly after it became known recently that the caseload in Europe is much higher than initially thought.
Only eight of the PML cases occurred in the U.S., where doctors must follow strict guidelines of who may get Tysabri and regulators closely monitor adverse event reports for the drug. Most of the 16 cases reported in Europe were in Germany, where regulatory oversight was less strict.
Elan projects Tysabri sales of about $1 billion this year. But more patients could get the drug if a test became available to sort out those at risk of developing PML.
GSK’s need for a new Advair
GlaxoSmithKline will advance efforts to develop a next-generation treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, but the British drugmaker stopped short of updating patients and investors about its next-generation asthma treatment.
GSK’s Advair is currently the top seller to treat asthma and COPD. But Advair, which generated about $8 billion in sales last year, could get competition from cheaper generic copycats starting next year. GSK, which has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, fills the Advair disk at its RTP-area plant in Zebulon.
A next-generation Advair is in the works. GSK has a partnership with Theravance, a Bay Area drug development company, to develop a once-daily treatment that is a combination of a new long-acting beta agonist and a corticosteroid GSK already uses in another product.
On Tuesday, GSK said both partners “remain committed to the progression of the … program for the treatment of asthma. ” But for now, the new combination treatment will only go on to late-stage testing in COPD.
In other company news:
- Aldagen made its second attempt in two years to raise $80.5 million in an initial public offering of stock. The Durham biotech company filed for an IPO in May 2008 and withdrew its filing five months later.
- Metabolon, a Durham biotech company, completed a $12.3 million fund raiser. One of the investors in the round is Syngenta, a Swiss agricultural products company that has its research center for genetically modified crop seeds in RTP. Metabolon, which identifies biochemical biomarkers associated with disease and medicines, already had a partnership with Syngenta.
Oil from sticks and grasses
The RTP area is already a hot spot for biofuels research. Researchers, economists and economic developers at universities, companies and government organizations have been working on efficient ways to make ethanol from biomass such as wood chips, corn stover and switch grass.
Now, researchers at RTI International in RTP have received a $3.1 million contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a one-step process that turns biomass in a type of bio crude. The biomass “oil” is an effort at finding a replacement for petroleum, the world’s most important source of energy since the 1950s.