Momenta Gets a Steal on Promising Scientific Asset from Once-Hot Virdante

12/7/11Follow @arleneweintraub

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antibodies with sugar molecules called sialic acid seem to tamp down excess inflammation. Virdante’s goal was to boost the anti-inflammatory properties of conventional antibodies by adding sialic acid molecules to them.

So what happened? Shea says it appears Virdante’s founders incorrectly assumed they would be able to take the technology directly from the lab into clinical trials. “I think they found there were some issues they had to work out,” Shea says. “That’s why it’s interesting for us. We have a broad discovery group in this area.”

Momenta’s drug-discovery platform, Shea says, is focused on understanding complex sugars. Virdante’s technology complements that effort, he says. “The Sialic Switch technology not only has the potential to regulate the anti-inflammatory activity of proteins, but it could also enhance the efficacy of existing drugs or even increase their activity. If that’s the case, it opens up the possibility of lowering dosages, which is often an advantage.”

Momenta is best known as a developer of generic drugs. Analysts expect the company to bring in $291 million in sales this year from royalties and profit sharing on a generic version of Sanofi’s anti-clotting drug enoxaparin (Lovenox), which the FDA approved a year ago. Sandoz markets the drug under a deal it formed with Momenta. The FDA is currently reviewing Momenta’s generic form of the multiple sclerosis drug glatiramer, which is marketed today by Teva Pharmaceuticals under the brand name Copaxone.

Momenta is also working on novel compounds—some of which are improvements of existing biotech drugs, and others that represent completely new mechanisms of action, Shea says. The company’s pipeline includes a drug to treat acute coronary syndromes and a novel anti-cancer treatment.

Shea says he’s reticent to put a timeline on the development of the Sialic Switch asset. “The nature of the technology is that it will take some work to get a sense of the timeline,” he says. “Hopefully we can advance it into clinical development fairly quickly.”

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