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Sticking together against Huntington’s
SAFFRON WALDEN, England—In what is its largest external collaboration to date, BioFocus has announced that it will continue for another five years its collaboration agreement with CHDI Foundation Inc., a non-profit virtual biotech pursuing therapies for Huntington's disease. BioFocus will perform the research and is eligible to receive $41 million in research fees during this period.
BioFocus will apply its full range of integrated drug discovery services for this program, and integrated biology and chemistry capabilities will be supported by BioFocus' expertise in complex primary neuronal assay development, high-content screening, fragment-based screening, computational chemistry, ADME/PK and protein crystallography, both organizations note.
The two organizations originally came together in 2005, though not precisely under the names BioFocus and CHDI. At the time, the deal was between Galapagos NV, the parent company of BioFocus—which is a service division of Galapagos—and the High Q Foundation Inc.
"The original collaboration was to find novel targets in Huntington's disease, based on our ability to functionally screen and validate novel drug targets in human primary cells," notes Elizabeth Goodwin, director of investor relations for Galapagos.
In May 2008, CHDI announced that it had taken over primary responsibility for the types of Huntington's disease research projects previously funded by High Q. Also, in the midst of the original five-year agreement, in October 2008, CHDI and Galapagos announced new collaboration agreements focused on developing novel assays for drug discovery and evaluating known compounds as potentially new therapeutic approaches for Huntington's disease, with a total value to Galapagos of $1 million over 18 months.
"Having collaborated with CHDI since 2005 in therapeutic target discovery, we are eager to continue working together to develop novel therapies for Huntington's disease and meet this urgent medical need," says Onno van de Stolpe, CEO of Galapagos. "We are confident that the next five years of this long-standing relationship with CHDI will be as productive as the first five."
Simon Noble, director of scientific communications for CHDI, notes that no particular event, breakthrough or other extraordinary factor is responsible for the five-year extension—simply the fact that among CHDI's various strategic partners, BioFocus has proven to be a reliable and skilled collaborator. "There is still work to do," he says, "and we find ourselves in need of more FTEs [full-time equivalent workers], and these are the people who can help us get that done."
"BioFocus has delivered expert technologies and experienced staff to therapeutic target and drug discovery research in the fight against Huntington's disease," said Ignacio Munoz-Sanjuan, vice-president of biology at CHDI, in the news release about the new deal. "This has encouraged us to extend and expand the collaboration, with the ultimate goal of finding disease-modifying treatments for Huntington's."
As Noble notes, CHDI relies heavily on its partnerships, as it is a virtual company. It has about 30 Ph.D. and M.D. science directors guiding various research, but it is the CROs and other strategic partners who often get the bulk of the work accomplished.
"We have a clinical group that we are currently expanding and we hope to go into clinical trials in the not-too-distant future with some of our compounds, so making sure we have the right partners in place is critical," he points out.
Despite not having a wealth of manpower itself, Galapagos' Goodwin emphasizes that this is a collaborative partnership, with skills being brought not just by BioFocus but also by CHDI.
"CHDI is a virtual biotech exclusively dedicated to rapidly discovering and developing therapies that slow the progression of Huntington's disease," Goodwin notes. "They bring disease knowledge, access to patients, and a network of Huntington's disease experts into the collaboration."