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Boehringer, Arena to Discover Neurological Drugs

Brain map illustration

(Arthur Toga, UCLA/NIH.gov)

13 January 2016. Pharmaceutical companies Boehringer Ingelheim and Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc. are collaborating on discovery of new therapies for schizophrenia and other neurological disorders. The partnership could bring Arena, in San Diego, as much as $262 million.

Arena Pharmaceuticals is a biopharmaceutical company developing therapies for disorders related to G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, proteins that appear on the surface membranes of cells and act as gateways for other proteins, sugar, lipids, and energy. GPCRs are involved in a wide range of biological signaling functions, with about 1,000 of these receptors in humans, each receiving specific signals.

The company’s technology discovers and develops drugs acting on GPCRs with known and unknown connecting molecules, called ligands, resulting in agonists that activate, or inhibitors that block or minimize the receptors. Arena says it can identify both agonist and inhibitor drug leads for specific GPCRs, either with our without knowing the connecting ligands. GPCRs, where the connecting ligands are unknown, are called orphan GPCRs.

The new agreement between Boehringer, in Ingelheim, Germany, and Arena covers an unspecified orphan GPCR associated with central nervous system functions. The deal gives Boehringer exclusive rights to the Arena’s intellectual property related to this GPCR, as well as any compounds developed internally from that intellectual property. Arena and Boehringer will jointly discover additional compounds that may be suitable for development, with Boehringer gaining a global license to develop and commercialize products resulting from the collaboration.

In return, Arena is eligible to receive up to $262 million in research funding, and initial and milestone payments. The companies did not disclose further financial details of the agreement.

Arena already has one product lorcaserin, approved by FDA in 2013 as a weight management drug, and marketed as Belviq. The company is discovering and developing other applications of lorcaserin for cardiovascular conditions related to diabetes and smoking cessation. Other candidates in Arena’s pipeline include drugs for blood clots, pulmonary arterial hypertension, autoimmune disorders, pain, and neurological disorders.

Neurological disorders is one of Boehringer’s four disease research areas, recently expanded to include psychiatric conditions. The company says it plans to discover new drugs for cognitive impairment and negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia, depression, impulsiveness, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

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