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Pfizer Licenses University Institute’s Obesity Research

Michel Bouvier

Michel Bouvier (Université de Montréal)

The global pharmaceutical company Pfizer is funding research at Université de Montréal in Quebec, Canada to identify cellular pathways in genetic defects leading to therapies for early-onset morbid obesity. Financial aspects of the collaboration, which gives Pfizer a license to commercially develop results of the research, were not disclosed.

Pfizer is funding and licensing research by Michel Bouvier, professor of biochemistry, as well as president and CEO of Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer – Commercialization of Research (IRICoR), the university’s unit for taking drug discovery research to market. Bouvier’s lab is investigating small molecule therapies addressing cell signaling pathways related to morbid obesity.

Morbid obesity is a serious health condition where excess weight interferes with functions like breathing and walking. People who are morbidly obese facing higher risks of chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. The condition is generally defined as weighing 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) more than one’s ideal body weight or having a body mass index of 40 or more.

Bouvier and colleagues are developing a new approach to therapies based on small molecules called pharmacological chaperones that target and bind to genetic mutations. The mutation in this case is in the melanocortin receptor type 4 (MC4R) gene associated with obesity. The body’s melanocortin system is important to the regulation of calories, and loss of the MC4R receptor is considered a common genetic cause of obesity.

Under the agreement, Pfizer will fund preclinical research at IRICoR, which through lab assays and animal models, already indicates the approach has promise for treating early-onset morbid obesity inherited from MC4R mutations. Pfizer, in turn, will be responsible for clincial development and marketing of products based on the research.

Pfizer will make an initial payment to IRICoR, which will also be eligible for development and commercial milestone payments, as well as royalties on sales of products from the collaboration.

The deal is expected to augment Pfizer’s current research on pharmacological chaperones targeting genetic diseases, according to Kevin Lee, the company’s chief scientist for rare diseases.

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