Optivia Biotech Finds its Way to Profits, With a Little Help from Friends at the FDA

7/5/11Follow @xconomy

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drug-drug interactions for drugmakers on transporters—Solvo Biotechnology and BD Biosciences are a couple of competitors. But Optivia has clearly made a lot of inroads in the market, particularly since the FDA has become more public about its desire for transporter studies. Optivia has signed up about one-third of the world’s Big Pharma companies as clients (including GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca). Optivia has also secured a collaboration with the FDA, and formed a research partnership earlier this year with UC San Francisco. The UCSF collaboration has the ambitious goal of testing 2,000 prescription drugs against key transporters in the liver and kidneys. It’s the most comprehensive study ever to look at prescription drugs and their effect on transporters, according to Kathleen Giacomini, a professor and co-chair of the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.

The business is set up so drugmakers pay fees to have Optivia test their compounds for drug-drug interactions in a petri dish. It’s really just one small step of many in the overall drug development process, but companies have learned that even small oversights can delay new drug applications, costing them millions down the road. At least three customers have told Optivia that the FDA is turning up the heat, by asking drug applicants to supply data on transporter drug-drug interactions in their new drug applications, says Carole Melis, a spokesperson for the company.

Fee-for-service businesses tend to have limited growth potential, and Huang wanted to stress that he doesn’t see the company being limited to this kind of work. Drug-drug interactions are the “tip of the iceberg with transporter biology. We’re a transporter biology platform,” he says.

What that means is Optivia wants to find ways to generate much more value out of its knowledge of transporters—by identifying some of them as new targets for drug development. For example, there are diabetes drugs in development now from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb that take aim at SGLT-2, a transporter in the kidney. If those oral pills live up to their billing, they should be able to help diabetics to flush excess amounts of sugar out of their systems through the urine. Anyone who can find more biological targets like that could obviously be sitting on something pretty valuable to major drugmakers.

“Drug-drug interactions are only part of the story,” Huang says. “It’s about utilizing transporter biology to discover more and better drugs.”

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