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A cardiovascular collaboration
July 2010
by David Hutton  |  Email the author


SAARBRUECKEN, GermanyŚWith a mutual goal of developing and commercializing novel drug candidates targeting cardiovascular disease, ElexoPharm GmbH has entered into a collaboration with Merck & Co.  
Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will be responsible for development, regulatory filings, manufacturing and commercialization activities stemming from the collaboration. Merck will pay ElexoPharm an upfront payment of $1.9 million. In addition, ElexoPharm is eligible to receive up to $41 million if specific development, regulatory and commercial milestones are achieved for a candidate, as well as royalties on net sales of any products resulting from the collaboration.
"This agreement marks a major milestone in ElexoPharm's relatively recent company history," says Prof. Rolf Hartmann, founder and scientific advisor of ElexoPharm GmbH. "We are delighted to have a partner such as Merck."  
Founded in 2005 by Hartmann as a spinoff from the Department of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry of Saarland University, ElexoPharm is focused on preclinical medicinal chemistry research concerning the design and development of new drugs using novel therapeutic approaches for human diseases that are currently not or insufficiently treatable with existing drugs.  
According to Dr. Ian R. McConnell, Merck's director of global communications, ElexoPharm was an attractive partner for the collaboration because of the progress it has made in the research of aldosterone synthase, a steroid hydroxylase cytochrome P450 oxidase enzyme involved in the generation of a hormone that increases the reabsorption of sodium and water and the secretion of potassium in the kidneys. This increases blood volume, and therefore, increases blood pressure.
"This represents an attractive target for the potential treatment of cardiovascular disease," McConnell says. "This agreement underscores Merck's ongoing commitment to developing breakthrough cardiovascular medicines."
ElexoPharm has licensed its aldosterone inhibitors program exclusively to Merck, and will take part in the further development of the program, Hartmann says.  
"Certain forms of congestive heart failure, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases go along with pathophysiologically elevated aldosterone plasma levels," Hartmann notes. "The goal is to reduce those elevated aldosterone plasma levels through an aldosterone synthase inhibitor."  
McConnell says ElexoPharm's leading-edge preclinical medicinal chemistry research "will enable Merck to explore novel therapeutic approaches that are currently not or insufficiently treatable with existing drugs and complements our already strong cardiovascular pipeline."  
Moreover, Hartmann points out that the agreement is a giant step for a budding company like ElexoPharm.
"The agreement itself is a great success for us, but we obviously hope to achieve further milestones," he says.  
In addition to its core CRO business, ElexoPharm is also undertaking in-house development of drugs that inhibit aldosterone synthase, or the CYP11B2 enzyme, for the potential treatment of congestive heart failure, myocardial fibrosis and hyperaldosteronism.  
CYP11B2 is a key enzyme in mineralocorticoid biosynthesis and catalyzes the conversion of deoxycorticosterone to the most potent mineralocorticoid aldosterone, according to Hartmann. The enzyme is regulated by several physiological parameters, including the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone-system and plasma potassium concentrations. ElexoPharm has developed a preclinical portfolio of selective nonsteroidal CYP11B2 inhibitors, which it claims have no effect on other steroidogenic CYP enzymes and reduced ACTH-stimulated aldosterone levels in rats.  
All of this has Merck officials seeing plenty of promise in the newly inked collaboration.  
"While we cannot speculate as to what will result from Merck's collaboration with ElexoPharm, we are confident that this venture will drive innovative research on the treatment of cardiovascular disease," McConnell says.  
As for the collaboration's impact on Merck's pipeline, McConnell notes that it does not serve to replace other drugs.
"Instead, it will expand and complement Merck's ongoing research in cardiovascular disease," he says.
Code: E071005



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