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Adding a jewel to the crown
November 2011
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Looking to expand its in-vivo research model platforms into metabolic diseases and to extend its market power in translational medicine and biotechnology, Crown Bioscience Inc. in late September acquired the International Institute of BioMedical Research (IIBR).  
Although the IIBR has operated in a very low-key, quiet mode—to the extent that finding information about it online is nearly impossible—Crown characterizes the institute as "the world's premier service provider for drug discovery in metabolic disease with its unique collection of fully characterized, non-human primate models with naturally occurring diabetes and metabolic syndrome." Because of her skills and knowledge, the founder of IIBR, Dr. Barbara C. Hansen—currently director of the Center for Preclinical Research and a professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of South Florida's Tampa campus—will join Crown Bioscience as a scientific advisor for metabolic diseases.
Based largely on 30 years' worth of research in Hansen's library, the professor herself is clearly a big part of the deal, at least in the early stages of the acquisition, and Crown Bio makes a point of highlighting her skills as a "leading expert in non-human primate models of obesity, diabetes and associated metabolic syndromes" who has "demonstrated that metabolic syndromes in non-human primate models are highly translatable to human disease in terms of disease natural history, mechanism and drug responses."  
As such, the acquisition of IIBR and addition of Hansen to the Crown Bio team "creates a unique opportunity for new target discovery, target validation and drug evaluation in a highly predictable model system," according to the official announcement about the deal, and the combination of IIBR's diabetic rhesus macaque and Crown Bio's diabetic cynomolgus monkeys are expected to "create a powerhouse for translational research in diabetes and metabolic syndrome."  
The company had originally sought Hansen's expertise to help characterize the large cynomolgus monkey colonies it possesses, which represent naturally occurring diabetes, according to Laura Sailor, vice president of global business development for Crown Bio. The acquisition naturally flowed from there, Sailor tells ddn, with the idea that Crown Bio's capacity mixed with Hansen's expertise and deep experience with in-vivo models "would enable the drug development of diabetic therapeutics and enable more predictive and early-stage go/no-go preclinical data."  
The problem as Crown Bio sees it, according to Sailor, is that with the high cost of driving diabetes clinical trials, "even in Phase II with added burden of cardiovascular toxicity, many pharma players in the space have decided to defocus this therapeutic area for early-stage development and the ones that want to play are putting the huge money necessary for the clinical trial patients, often with lots of post-study work required by FDA. "  
As pharmas shift their strategies, there will be an increasing option for biotech to do the target discovery and early-stage preclinical work, and then backfill pharmacy pipelines, Sailor says, but one big limiting factor to biotech and small pharmas has been the lack of predictive models for diabetes.   
"Unfortunately, most of our knowledge and drug development programs still depend heavily on rodent models, which have been shown to be poorly predictive of human disease and drug response," said Dr. Yiyou Chen, chief scientific officer of Crown Bio, in the news release about the acquisition. "This contributes to the high rate of clinical failure for anti-diabetes drug development programs. With a critical mass of non-human primate models, we hope to enable our partners to discover new biological pathways and new treatments for this important disease."  
"The rodent and pig models don't translate to the clinic," Sailor reiterates. "Crown Bio had decided to provide a more predictive model in non-human primates (NHPs). With infrastructure and expertise from overseas, Crown Bio started to build out this division. Barbara Hansen is the world's foremost and most experienced research lab in the world for natural occurring spontaneously diabetic NHP colonies. With the oldest and most-characterized NHP colonies in the world averaging over 30 years of age, Dr. Hansen's efforts are world-renowned and the gold standard for late-stage preclinical model testing in rhesus monkeys."  
"We are delighted to join forces with Crown Bio; there is definitely a synergy between IIBR's expertise in disease biology and Crown Bio's capability in translational research as well as operational know-how," Hansen said in an official statement. "With 285 million patients today and 500 million by 2030 worldwide, diabetes has reached pandemic proportion. There is a growing and unmet need for new treatment for the disease and associated complications."
Code: E111123



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