Alder Steers Next Antibodies To Unusual Places: Treating Migraines and High Cholesterol

3/2/11Follow @xconomy

Alder Biopharmaceuticals prides itself on challenging conventional wisdom. But while Alder has proved the skeptics wrong, showing it can make targeted antibody therapies in a new way with cheap and fast-dividing yeast cells, it has used this technology in a pretty conventional way—to make weapons against cancer and autoimmunity.

Now Alder is stepping out with two really unusual ideas on how to use antibodies in ways they’ve never been used before.

The Bothell, WA-based biotech company, which enticed Bristol-Myers Squibb to enter into a $1 billion partnership in 2009 to co-develop its lead drug for rheumatoid arthritis, is unveiling a couple interesting new antibodies from its discovery pipeline. These new drug candidates, which Alder is discussing today at Life Science Innovation Northwest in Seattle, are aimed at two diseases that have never been treated with antibodies—migraine headaches and high cholesterol.

The idea is to find another way to exploit Alder’s underlying technology in a place where fewer competitors tread, yet where there is still money to be made. Alder’s yeast-based system is made to be cheaper and faster at churning out antibody drugs than the usual bacterial or mammalian cells used by other companies. Partly because of the high costs of making antibodies today, most companies have developed them against diseases like cancer—where drugs can command prices of as high as $100,000. Alder’s idea is to use its more flexible platform to break out of that groove, and think about using antibodies against other chronic diseases that require lower-cost therapies.

There are still plenty of risks here, not the least of which includes whether people will pay something in the ballpark of $5,000 to $8,000 a year for a migraine treatment. Alder’s drugs are also a long way from hitting the radar of your average physician: Alder’s new migraine drug candidate is being prepped for its first clinical trial later this year, and the cardiovascular drug could enter its first human test in late 2011, or early 2012, CEO Randy Schatzman says.

Randy Schatzman

“When people typically think of antibodies in autoimmune disease and cancer, the rationale often is that these are indications in which people will tolerate the high price of those medicines, and these are indications in which people will tolerate some of the safety issues,” Schatzman says. “But we’ve been thinking, are there non-traditional markets where antibodies can play a role that people haven’t thought about in the past, but where we understand the biology?”

Migraine headaches affect an estimated 30 million people in the U.S., and nobody has ever come up with a drug that stops migraine pain before it starts. There is a family of “triptan” based drugs which generated about $3 billion in worldwide sales in 2008, although the former market leader—GlaxoSmithKline’s sumatriptan (Imitrex)—recently lost its patent and began to face generic competition.

Drugs in this class, which work by constricting blood flow to the brain, aren’t really a cure-all. They have to be taken once a patient already feels migraine pain, and then they offer some relief for half to three-fourths of patients within two hours. They don’t last … Next Page »

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