February 23, 2010

Viamet, Novartis Fund Targeting Metalloenzymes in $200M Deal

By Catherine Hollingsworth, Staff Writer (BioWorld Today) – Viamet Pharmaceuticals Inc. signed a deal worth more than $200 million with the Novartis Option Fund to discover and develop metalloenzyme inhibitors of interest to the Swiss drugmaker. Morrisville, N.C.-based Viamet said the Novartis agreement provides an opportunity to expand its Metallophile technology beyond the current development programs aimed at metalloenzymes involved in infectious disease and oncology. Viamet did not disclose any further details about the Novartis deal. In fact, Viamet has been tight-lipped about even its unpartnered preclinical programs. The company has said that its programs are based on well-validated metalloenzymes. Despite its efforts to stay under the radar, Viamet’s core technology has been “attracting attention” from interested companies, Neil Moore, vice president of business development, told BioWorld Today. Viamet also has grabbed the attention of corporate investors, the Novartis Option Fund, part of the Novartis Corporate Venture Funds, and Lilly Ventures, which led an $18 million Series B financing round at Viamet last year (See BioWorld Today, July 8, 2009). With the Series B funds, Viamet hopes to take its independent programs through proof of concept before looking for partners. Many of the companies Viamet has been spoken with so far have their own metalloenzyme programs, CEO Robert Schotzinger told BioWorld Today. The company’s Metallophile technology is used to optimize the metal-binding component of existing inhibitors, including currently marketed drugs. Viamet’s metal-binding approach potentially could be used “to resurrect failed compounds from failed programs” or to “make good programs even better,” said Schotzinger, former CEO of BioStratum Inc. He added that Novartis is “looking to us to solve the metal-binding problem.” About a third of known enzymes have metals such as zinc or iron associated with their structure or activity, making metalloenzymes a well-known class of drug targets. Lotensin (benazepril HCl, Novartis AG) and other angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors target metalloenzymes, as does Viagra (sildenafil citrate, Pfizer Inc.). However, certain classes of drugs that target metalloenzymes tend not be selective enough and can inhibit unintended, related targets. Histone deacetylase inhibitors have had problems with selectivity and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) inhibitors, a hot angiogenesis-based drug target in the 1990s and early 2000s, also has run into problems in the clinic. British Biotech plc, of Wokingham, UK, suffered through several failed clinical trials with MMP inhibitor Marimastat in various types of cancer. Celltech Group plc and several big pharmas also stumbled with MMP inhibitors. Viamet raised $4 million in a Series A financing to support preclinical development work, and prior to that it operated on about $500,000 in seed funding provided by Intersouth Partners, which incubated the company in its Durham, N.C. facilities. The Series A funds allowed Viamet to find its own space and expand its team. (See BioWorld Today, June 11, 2007.)