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Radius Health (another firm backed by MPM), which licensed a modified hormone drug from Ipsen as a treatment for osteoporosis in 2005. Rhythm was formed in 2008 to apply Ipsen’s technology to treating metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity, he says.
The obesity market is huge. About two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight or obese, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, there are few pharmaceutical options for treating obesity, and the appetite suppressants that are often prescribed today can disrupt peoples’ sleep and cause other side effects. And the fact that so many Americans are overweight is a big reason that there are more than 24 million diabetics in the U.S.
Rhythm has licensed genetically modified versions of the ghrelin and melanocyte-stimulating hormones from Ipsen. The melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) regulates appetite and energy homeostasis in cells, Henderson says, and the startup plans to begin a Phase I clinical trial next year with a compound based on this hormone to treat diabetes and obesity. The firm’s lead compound derived from ghrelin, a hunger-stimulating hormone, will be tested in humans to treat the digestive slowdowns that occur in diabetics and people who undergo abdominal surgeries. For the latter group, that drug could shorten hospital stays, Henderson says.
There’s definitely precedence for using genetically modified hormones for treating obesity and diabetes. San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AMLN), for instance, is developing a modified hormone—a combination of pramlintide and metreleptin—for treating obesity in partnership with Japanese drug giant Takeda. That drug is now in late-stage clinical development. Swiss drug powerhouse Roche is making progress with the development of a hormone-related compound licensed from Ipsen for treating diabetes. These drugs have caught on after earlier small molecules have failed to deliver results, particularly in the obesity arena.
“Your starting point is the human messenger hormone,” Henderson says, “so you’re making a bet on what Mother Nature has crafted rather than starting de novo with a small molecule.”
Henderson is still operating Rhythm from MPM’s Boston offices along with his co-founder, Elizabeth Stoner, an MPM managing director, who is serving as chief development officer of the startup. They’ve also recruited Harvard Medical School professor Lee Kaplan, who heads obesity research at Massachusetts General Hospital, to serve as a scientific advisor to the company.
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