Mercury Therapeutics: Novel Approaches in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes




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Video title: Mercury Therapeutics: Novel Approaches in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes
Released on: June 17, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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In this interview, filmed at the recent BioEurope conference in Madrid, Fintan Walton speaks with Dr. Neal Birnberg, CEO of Mercury Therapeutics, and Stan Yakatan, Chairman of Mercury’s Board of Directors. Mercury Therapeutics was founded in 2001 and its main focus is on the discovery and development of orally active small molecule activators of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). The company has recently filed for patent protection on three lead compounds that directly and specifically activate AMPK and estimate they are about 16-18 months away from IND filing on those compounds. As Mercury’s direction has changed over the years, from a company originally creating screening technology to an early-stage drug development company, they are actively seeking new strategic partners to help them further their efforts to discover novel treatments for unmet medical needs.
Origins of Mercury Therapeutics and the science of AMP Kinase.
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures Business Review here in Madrid. On this show I have two gentlemen from Mercury Therapeutics, I've got the CEO, Neal Birnberg who is from Woburn, Massachusetts where the company is based and Stan Yakatan, who is the Chairman of Mercury Therapeutics. Welcome to the show. Neal, you're one of the founders of this business, the company is originally incorporated in 1996, it started operations in 2001 it has a specific interest in the metabolic disease area and it has a specific target of AMP-kinase and as a basis to its science, could you describe why Mercury Therapeutics was founded and why you are focus has been on this specific area.
Neal Birnberg:
Well AMP-kinase turns out as a very important regulator of the way insulin is handled by the body. And while most of the contemporary diabetes drugs are designed to increase insulin production or enhance the response to insulin. Mercury Therapeutics focusing on AMP-kinase allows the body to reverse some of the deleterious effects of obesity and the aging process by enhancing insulin sensitivity in the liver and skeletal muscle, what that does is it lowers your blood glucose levels in the morning when you wake up and following meals the two times when elevated glucose can cause the most harm to the body and we feel that AMP-kinase as a drug target will provide novel and powerful methods for controlling blood glucose in ways that are not available today.
Fintan Walton:
This ability to an key component of AMP-kinase has implications not just only in diabetes in those who have it has a implications also in areas like obesity, is that correct?
Neal Birnberg:
Absolutely. AMP-Kinase has been shown when it is activated to enhance the physiology that opposes what is known as the metabolic syndrome which is a collection of metabolic in disease that collectively point to cardiovascular disease risk, enhanced mortality for a variety of reasons and the activation of AMP-kinase in the body will lower HDL and LDL lower LDL levels, it will lower blood glucose levels, it will decrease obesity and it will decrease blood pressure. And we believe that all of these effects can potentially be harnessed by the development of a small molecule drug that can be directed towards the activation of AMP-kinase in people.
Fintan Walton:
So does that mean you know there are lot of particular indications there are you likely to find molecules that behave differently, so that they will have preferred use in some indications over others with the target such as AMP-kinase?
Neal Birnberg:
Well potentially what we're seeing is that the hurdles to develop say a cancer drug or a drug that might be treated to use acutely following heart attack have different barriers to entry into the market than a drug that will be taken orally for a - by a person may be the rest of their lives. So potentially the types of drugs that can be developed for a key indication a life threatening indications can have faster time line or different lower threshold for entry into the marketplace.
Fintan Walton:
So the company at the moment has a number of employees got about 6 permanent members of staff which will also work in collaboration with some of the universities but also use a lot of outside service providers, so you effectively got a virtual company model is that correct?
Neal Birnberg:
That's correct, we focus on our biochemistry core competency within the company and we outsource our additional chemistry in our pharmacokinetics and on toxicology. And we have collaborations that are recently been established within that cancer and in heart attack, Myocardial infarction.
Mercury Therapeutics's collaboration with Aventis.
Fintan Walton:
Okay, okay. Stan, let's turn to you because you are the Chairman of Mercury Therapeutics the commercial operations for a company like Mercury there is a history obviously around Mercury it entered into a collaboration many years ago with Aventis?
Stan Yakatan:
Yes it did.
Fintan Walton:
And could you tell us that story?
Stan Yakatan:
Aventis and Mercury developed a collaboration predominantly based on the patented technology that Mercury had for screening purposes. And the screeningchemical compounds from Aventis I think the relationship probably lasted almost two-years and we registered a major preclinical milestone when Aventis was acquired by Sanofi [PharmaDeals ID = 15370] and as most people in the industry know at that time Sanofi cancelled all the preclinical programs that Aventis was involved in and of course Mercury was a casualty. We had two choices one was to look at another partner who had similar needs what Aventis had or to go to typical venture capital route and the company had been very successful in its program with Aventis and an industrial group came along that yield some screening technology at that time and decided to make a significant investment in Mercury today they own about 75% of it, but Mercury sort of changed into a drug development company it went away from screening because these guys really didn't need a lot of screening. And Neal and his team had discovered this extremely novel prawn based approach to developing drug candidates for multiple indications and as the company has progressed I think now there are three or four patents filed on particular drugs a lot of preclinical work has been done a lot of animal work has been done the industrial company that has invested in it really doesn't understand the FDA process and doesn't understand the clinical trials and really would like to either partner or even go so far as divest the company if that opportunity existing.
Fintan Walton:
So at this stage then Mercury Therapeutics is looking for some form of strategic partnership whether it is you know a direct access to the license
Stan Yakatan:
Right.
Fintan Walton:
And to the technology or even possibly acquire the company?
Stan Yakatan:
That would be the best way to say it and that you know Neal and I have been working together for many years so we've been able to facilitate this kind of a situation a few times before, so that.
Licensing of technology.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So Neal going back to this, if I was a pharmaceutical company or even another sort of midsized company and may be interested in this specific area what would be the key science that you think and you've mentioned some of the science already, but what are the what would somebody be inheriting if they acquired or got a license to your technology?
Neal Birnberg:
They would be inheriting a collection of compounds plus a series of assay platform technologies, the compounds would be used for treating animals that have been induced to develop diabetes by feeding them a high fat diet for many months and we can show by the treatment of these animals for as little as a week's time that we can reverse many of the effects of the diet induced obesity as exhibited by their ability to handle glucose challenges it's called the glucose tolerance test well as simply looking at their morning glucose like any diabetic would look, they wake up in the morning they check their glucose and if it's elevated you take medicine and we know that we can treat these animals over period of time and their glucose, blood glucose levels begin to normalize and look much more similar to a normal and to a diabetic animal.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Now all the compounds that you've got are pre-IND molecule?
Neal Birnberg:
They are pre-IND they've been discovered inside Mercury they are novel and we've recently filed patents on collection of them.
Fintan Walton:
And how far away they are from IND filing?
Neal Birnberg:
Probably on the order of 16 to 18 months.
Fintan Walton:
Okay.
Neal Birnberg:
If things go well.
Fintan Walton:
Yeah, according to plan, yes.
Neal Birnberg:
According to plan.
Out sourcing and Partnership strategies.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So Stan, where are we in looking for these particular partners I know you are here in Madrid at BioEurope?
Stan Yakatan:
Yeah we've done two things in keeping with our out licensing or out sourcing concept we have brought in a group called Marquant Partners who I think a lot of people in the industry know and between myself and Marquant we've had a substantial number of meetings with potential partners and I would say from an industry standard I think we all believe we are ahead of where we expected to be in terms of our discussions, here we have a number of meetings set up, we've done one, two, three, Neal and I have probably done four or five individual meetings before we even retained Marquant to assist us and so far it's going very well.
Fintan Walton:
So you've got a lot of interest.
Stan Yakatan:
Yeah there has been a tremendous amount of interest.
Fintan Walton:
Okay.
Stan Yakatan:
Much more than I think we thought.
Fintan Walton:
Very good, well it's an interesting subject area so I am sure some companies will be definitely interested in the technology. Well thank you gentlemen indeed for coming on the show. Thank you Neal thank you Stan.
Stan Yakatan:
Thank you.
Neal Birnberg:
Thank you.
Stan Yakatan
Chairman
Dr. Birnberg is the President & CEO and a co-founder of Mercury Therapeutics. Dr. Birnberg received his B.S. in Chemistry in 1976 from Tufts University and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Oregon in 1981. Prior to entering the private sector, Dr. Birnberg led a research team at Yale Medical School where he was a professor in the Department of Pharmacology from 1986 to 1992. In 1993 Dr. Birnberg joined the biotech startup Creagen, Inc. as Scientific Director and was part of the management team that successfully engineered a merger with Neurex, Inc. resulting in a substantial gain for Creagen's shareholder. Following the Neurex merger in 1994, Dr. Birnberg joined the biotech startup Cystar, Inc. as the Director of Research and Development. In 1996, Dr. Birnberg and a team of academic colleagues founded Mercury Therapeutics. Mr. Yakatan is an experienced CEO, entrepreneur and operational manager with C-level executive experience at leading health science companies including New England Nuclear, EI Dupont, ICN Pharma, New Brunswick Scientific, and Biosearch. Mr. Yakatan has founded or co-founded in excess of 15 companies in the U.S., Canada, Israel, France, and Germany. He has advised several of the world's leading venture capital firms including TVM, Ventana, MSP, and Biocapital. In addition to serving as the Chairman of MTI, Mr. Yakatan currently serves as the chairman of Grant Life Sciences, Inc, and serves on the board of directors of Biophan and of Phenomenome Discoveries, Inc. Mr. Yakatan is the Executive Director and Chairman of Biocomm, a Melbourne, Australia business development and early stage capital pool, and is a senior advisor to XL TechGroup, Inc.
Mercury Therapeutics
Mercury Therapeutics(MTI) is an early stage drug discovery company founded in 2001 that focuses on the development of small molecule candidates against a number of selected protein kinase drug targets in metabolic disease and oncology. Mercury Therapeutics main focus is on the discovery and development of orally active small molecule activators of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). The potential indications of a successful AMPK targeted drug include: Type 2 diabetes, Hyperlipidemia, Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Endocrine cancers - prostate, breast, ovarian The company has recently filed for patent protection on three lead compounds that directly and specifically activate AMPK.