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A natural fit
ALBANY, N.Y.—Albany Molecular Research Inc. (AMRI) recently announced that it has entered into a natural products-based drug discovery collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. that will span two years. According to Bruce Sargent, vice president of research and development for AMRI, this is not only a sign of confidence in his company by a big pharma player but a broader sign of a return to natural products in the industry.
Specific details of the work are conifidential, but AMRI has noted that under the terms of the agreement, it will test samples from its natural product hit seeking collections against multiple drug targets, with the goal of identifying hit compounds with desired biological activity in a potential range of therapeutic areas.
"This a broad-based program," notes Sargent. "BMS wants to apply our technology and resources to a wide range of their drug discovery programs. And that covers an awful lot of disease areas potentially, from oncology to metabolics to central nervous system and more."
AMRI also could provide follow-up medicinal chemistry hit-to-lead optimization, biocatalysis or chemical synthesis support on compounds of interest to Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Financial specifics are also under wraps at this point, but the collaboration does include an upfront payment for AMRI, research funding and opportunities for the company to receive milestone payments based on the achievement of specific development and commercialization goals. AMRI would also receive royalty payments on sales of commercial products that result from the collaboration.
Although his company cannot say much about the Bristol-Myers Squibb deal itself, Sargent says there is quite a bit to say about what this deal signifies in a larger sense for pharmaceutical discovery work.
"It wasn't that long ago that a lot of our pharmaceutical products emerged from natural products, but then companies began to move away from that when they got into combinatorial chemistry," he says. "But that method hasn't always delivered on its promises. The Bristol-Myers Squibb decision to tap us for natural products is illustrative of a broader attitude among companies that are now asking themselves, 'Why did we just give up on looking at natural products?' And now they're coming back to have another go at it."
With almost 300,000 crude and partially purified fractions, AMRI reportedly has one of the world's largest and diverse natural products-based collections derived from microbial cultures, plants and marine organisms.
As to what drew AMRI and Bristol-Myers Squibb together on this deal, Sargent notes that the two companies had struck an earlier deal in 2005, a three-year agreement under which Bristol-Myers Squibb licensed AMRI's broad program of biogenic amine reuptake inhibitor compounds for the treatment of depression and other central nervous system disorders. "We're always looking for companies that might want to tap our natural product library, and we had approached BMS in the past about that," Sargent explains. "After we got going on the central nervous system deal, which wasn't based on natural products, they got a chance to work with us closely and see how we were able to get things done for them. That gave them comfort level and confidence that they could count on us as they made a return to natural products, too."