AstraZeneca may bring in more R&D projects to India – Cover Story – Express Pharma Pulse

AstraZeneca may bring in more R&D projects to India
Ananth Iyer – Mumbai

epp2002050201-5230613AstraZeneca is exploring the possibility of bringing in new R&D projects to India, a reliable industry source told Express Pharma Pulse. The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical group is planning to broaden the scope of AstraZeneca Research Foundation India to include chemistry-based drug discovery projects in the area of pain management, the source revealed.

AstraZeneca Research Foundation India – a non-profit centre based in Bangalore – focuses on discovery of novel therapeutics for infectious diseases of developing world, particularly tuberculosis.

Indications are that AstraZeneca may transfer a part of its pain management projects carried out by the chemistry department at its R&D centre in Montreal to the R&D unit in India.

AstraZeneca’s Montreal unit is working towards discovering new drugs against chronic and neuropathic pain as there is a high medical need for safe and effective analgesics. The focus is on a family of receptors called “G protein – coupled receptors” (or GPCRs), as they represent the most important class of receptors and most of them are localized in areas of importance for pain processing.

The Montreal unit comprises three main scientific departments (molecular biology, chemistry and pharmacology) working together to discover novel drug targets (new GPCRs) and identify new chemical entities acting at these novel targets. In the long run, the company might find it useful to shift chemistry-based projects in areas such as oncology, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous system, the source added.

India’s proven skills in chemical synthesis has attracted a lot of multinationals. Back in 1998, Merck KcGA set up its 100 per cent subsidiary Merck Development Centre India Ltd to formulate new chemical entities originating from the parent’s pipeline. A number of multinationals have outsourced projects to reputed CSIR research institutions such as NCL Pune and IISc Bangalore.

Historically the analgesia market has been poorly served due to a number of factors that include misconceptions about adequate therapies, poor understanding of pain mechanisms and methods for analgesic development as well as a lack of initiative and investment from industry. All these factors have been challenged in recent years and today several major companies are active in analgesia development. Innovative therapies (Sumatriptan, COX-2 inhibitors) or off-label use of drugs (e.g. gabapentin) for analgesia have illustrated the potential for phenomenal growth in the analgesia market with potential global sales estimated to rise from 10-15 Billion USD today to 25-30 Billion USD by 2008.

According to IMS Health, non-steroidal antirheumatics, for example, is the fifth-largest therapy class totalling $9.5 billion in sales, or 3 percent of all audited global pharmaceutical sales. North America with 53.3 percent of worldwide sales is the largest market, followed by Europe at 19.6 percent, the Africa/Asia/Australia region at 16.4 percent, and Latin America at 10.8 percent. Pharmacia’s Celebrex and Merck & Co’s Vioxx, the two leading COX-2 inhibitors, have had phenomenal sales success. Celebrex secured the lead product position after just 11 months on the market. By the end of 2000, it had captured 25 percent of the world market, with sales growth of 65 percent. Vioxx was the second best-selling antirheumatic non-steroidal product in 2000, taking 19.1 percent of the worldwide market with sales growth of 363 percent.

Greater understanding of pain mechanisms has highlighted molecular plasticity in the Peripheral Nervous System and Central Nervous System. The identification of many families of novel molecular targets has further opened opportunities for innovative analgesic drug discovery. These advances have been supplemented by great improvements in laboratory and in clinical pain modelling. In particular there has been an enthusiastic buy-in from pain clinicians and scientists for describing clinical pain in mechanistic terms. These mechanisms are beginning to be understood in terms of the molecular targets involved, providing a strong background for a variety of rational drug discovery programs.