Genentech: Alexander Schuth. Exciting times in the field of Neuroscience




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Video title: Genentech: Alexander Schuth. Exciting times in the field of Neuroscience
Released on: December 12, 2012. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed at BioEurope 2012 in Hamburg, Germany, Fintan Walton talks to Alexander Schuth, Director and Head of Neuroscience Partnering at Genentech
Genentech's areas of focus (neurodegeneration, Alzheimer's,Pain,Parkinson's, ALS )
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here at BioEurope 2012, in Hamburg in 2012. On this show I have got Alexander Schuth, who is the Director and Head of Neuroscience Partnering at Genentech, welcome.
Alexander Schuth:
Thank you Fintan, thank you for inviting me.
Fintan Walton:
Pleasure. So Alex, neuroscience obviously is a broad field, so what areas are you actually specifically focused on?
Alexander Schuth:
Right, so at Genentech we are specifically focused on neurodegeneration, so Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, but we've also have a selective interest outside of neurodegeneration areas like pain, or neuropsychiatric indications where there is a clear biologic rationale.
Types of deals and opportunities Genentech is looking for
Fintan Walton:
Okay, and obviously as you say these are break through areas in research, so the approaches that you are taking in terms of your partnering approach just to say take what form, what sort of opportunities are you looking for, what sort of deals are you doing?
Alexander Schuth:
Right, we partner very early at Genentech, so something that sets us apart from many other companies in the industry is that we partner pre-clinically, so 90% of our deals are preclinical, in fact all of our deals in neuroscience have been preclinical deals. One of the themes that we always look for is great science and great partners. So on the deals that we pursue we always look for very good understanding of the molecular target and the pathway. So we call it target based hypothesis driven research and also partnering.
Basis of collaboration with AC Immune
Fintan Walton:
Okay, so one of the deals that you've done recently is AC Immune [PharmaDeals ID = 47412]?
Alexander Schuth:
That's right.
Fintan Walton:
T ell us the basis of that collaboration?
Alexander Schuth:
This is the second collaboration with AC Immune, in fact we had the first one a few years ago on an Abeta antibody, this year is an antibody targeting tau. Tau is one of the two pathological hallmark features of Alzheimer's disease, Abeta being the other one. Now the interesting thing about tau the biology which is recently becoming apparent is that the appearance of the tau pathology tracks very closely with the emergence of symptoms. So the hope is that by targeting tau one would have a better point to target the disease later on. So this is an early stage, it's a preclinical stage deal once again that has a research collaboration attached to it.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and the basis of the molecules that you are taking forward are antibody based, is that correct?
Alexander Schuth:
Yes, this is an antibody.
Fintan Walton:
So what's the concept then as the, can these antibodies actually cross the blood brain barrier or do they have to be actually physically injected into the brain?
Alexander Schuth:
Yes, so antibodies in fact contrary to popular belief so antibodies do cross the blood brain barrier, we know that, about one in a thousand antibodies always crosses the blood brain barrier. With a mechanism of targeting the misfolded protein like Tau or Abeta that amount hopefully may be sufficient to drive efficacy. So these antibodies are not engineered in any way to or delivered through the blood brain barrier, this is IV infusion and we do know from preclinical studies that these antibodies reach the brain and have a pharmacodynamic effect on the brain.
Fintan Walton:
When do you expect the human trials to start?
Alexander Schuth:
So this is preclinical, it's a couple of years away from the clinic.
Collaboration with Banner and the National Institutes of Health in Alzheimer's area
Fintan Walton:
Okay, and the other element to, on the subject of Alzheimer's, you've also recently announced this collaboration with Banner and the National Institutes of Health [PharmaDeals ID = 49879], could you explain what is the basis of that collaboration?
Alexander Schuth:
Yes, so this is a very exciting collaboration not only for us but we feel for the entire Alzheimer's field. So the collaboration is crenezumab or Abeta antibody was selected for this first ever prevention study in Alzheimer's. So this is a study and collaboration as you say with Banner and with scientists in Columbia at the University of Antioquia where we are treating patients that are cognitively normal but have a genetic mutation which gives them almost certainty to develop Alzheimer's disease in their 40's and 50's. So the hope is here that by being able to prevent or slow or even stop the progression of the disease the onset of symptoms these patients are helped who otherwise are destined to get Alzheimer's disease but also learn from millions of other such patients who are at high risk for Alzheimer's.
Fintan Walton:
Okay, and what's the time span for these particular type trial?
Alexander Schuth:
So the trial will, if everything goes well, we will start enrolling next year. It's a seven-year, it's a seven-year trial with an interim analysis after five-years.
Fintan Walton:
Yes, so it's quite a long study in the end.
Alexander Schuth:
Yes.
Deal with Xenon in Pain area
Fintan Walton:
Okay, so obviously neurodegeneration is one of the key areas that you've described for Genentech, but you've also recently announced a deal with Xenon [PharmaDeals ID = 44817] which was more on the pain area.
Alexander Schuth:
That's right.
Fintan Walton:
So could you explain to us what that collaboration is about?
Alexander Schuth:
Yes, so outside of neurodegeneration we have a very emerging and selective interest in pain and other areas where there is really exciting science and where there is a good understanding of the biology and we feel especially Xenon is a company that uses genetic information in their selection of the targets and the target here ,although it's not disclosed, is one which has a very direct link to feeling in patients who have this mutation they have an inability to feel pain , so our hypothesis is that if you can modulate this target that you would reduce the pain reception in patients.
Fintan Walton:
So the basis of the collaboration is to find molecules that will target this particular gene?
Alexander Schuth:
You are absolutely right. So Xenon has small molecules that target this protein, again there is a research collaboration attached, and we will go after this targets either way, so either by small molecules or even by antibody approaches if possible.
Genentech's approach towards targets Abeta ,Tau and APOE
Fintan Walton:
Right, just going back to the neurodegeneration field, it is a changing field, we still don't really understand the mechanism of disease for things like Alzheimer's, we know what the symptoms look like, we can see the products like Tau and so forth, so what other approaches are you taking?
Alexander Schuth:
Right, we don't but the science is breaking open. So not many years ago the only way to clearly diagnosis Alzheimer's disease was by autopsy, so after the patient died to cut open their brain and see if you see amyloid and neurofibrillary tangles. So advances in science on the understanding of the biology, imaging technologies, genetics, CSF biomarkers give you a reasonable ability to predict the risk of a patient developing Alzheimer's disease early on. So I mentioned or we mentioned the two key targets we are going after Abeta and tau and then there is others and very exciting area is APOE. So there is a strong genetic link between APOE and the risk of developing Alzheimer's. Very early on we are just beginning to understand the biology behind APOE and there are different approaches that companies out here at the conference are taking and that's a very exciting field.
Fintan Walton:
So you are here at BioEurope obviously looking for opportunities?
Alexander Schuth:
That's right.
Fintan Walton:
And how would you describe the landscape?
Alexander Schuth:
Exciting, really or especially in the neuroscience field early on, exciting. There is this sense that the science is breaking open, that now for the first time ever we are at this cusp of really being able to make biology driven, target driven decisions and hopefully help patients not too far in the future.
Partnership strategy
Fintan Walton:
Obviously Genentech is part of Roche , but how independent is Genentech from Roche in terms of decision making?
Alexander Schuth:
Right, so Genentech is completely independent from Roche with respect to research and early development, and early development is defined as up to Phase II clinical trials, so within that space Genentech has own decision making and own budget.
Fintan Walton:
Okay.
Alexander Schuth:
And its own partnering group, which I am part of.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and the other thing is that obviously Genentech is an organization that has a very proud background that's been developing new products but its partnering has become increasingly important?
Alexander Schuth:
That's right. Partnering has always been important for Genentech, but also especially in the last few years and just as an example about 60% of our pipeline in research and early development is partnered, that means that either the molecule was discovered at a partner or is developed in collaboration with the partner.
Fintan Walton:
So Alex, we look forward to hearing more about the neuroscience developments at Genentech, and thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Alexander Schuth:
Thanks so much, it was a pleasure.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Alexander Schuth
Director and Head of Neuroscience Partnering
At the time of recording this PTV interview Alexander Schuth serves as Director and Head of Neuroscience Partnering at Genentech, Inc.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Genentech Inc
Genentech Inc was founded more than 35 years ago, in 1976, by the late venture capitalist Robert A. Swanson and the biochemist Dr. Herbert W. Boyer. In the early 1970s, Boyer and geneticist Stanley Cohen pioneered a new scientific field called recombinant DNA technology. Upon learning about this development, Swanson placed a call to Boyer and requested a meeting. Boyer agreed to give the young entrepreneur 10 minutes of his time. Swanson's enthusiasm for the technology and his faith in its commercial potential were contagious, and the meeting extended from 10 minutes to three hours; by its conclusion, Genentech was born. Though Swanson and Boyer faced skepticism from both the academic and business communities, they forged ahead with their idea. The company's goal was to develop a new generation of therapeutics created from genetically engineered copies of naturally occurring molecules important in human health and disease. Within a few short years, Genentech scientists proved it was possible to make medicines by splicing genes into fast-growing bacteria that produced therapeutic proteins. Today Genentech continues to use genetic engineering techniques and advanced technologies to develop medicines that address significant unmet needs and provide clinical benefits to millions of patients worldwide. In March 2009, Genentech became a member of the Roche Group. As part of their merger agreement, Roche and Genentech combined their pharmaceutical operations in the United States. Genentech's South San Francisco campus now serves as the headquarters for Roche pharmaceutical operations in the United States. Genentech Research and Early Development operates as an independent center within Roche.