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Therapeutic Peptides

Immupharma France, in Mulhouse, is developing several drugs based on peptides–protein fragments–discovered by researchers at CNRS. Company president and managing director Robert Zimmer tells us about the company's most promising treatments.

Which treatment, out of all those developed in collaboration with CNRS, is the most far advanced?
robert zimmer

© L. Weige/Horschamps

Robert Zimmer:
Definitely Lupuzor, a drug candidate for treating systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease in which the patient's immune system produces auto-antibodies that can result in serious symptoms (rheumatological, neurological, dermatological and renal). By floating the company on the British stock market in 2006, we raised €15 million, enough to perform the full development up to phase II clinical trials. The results are very promising. In fact, Lupuzor is one of the first anti-lupus treatments tested at this stage which has performed significantly better than the placebo. The company that has been entrusted with the development of Lupuzor will start phase III clinical trials in the near future. If all goes well, the drug could be on the market by 2013. This is a real hope for people afflicted with this disease—1.4 million in G8 countries, 90% of which are women between the ages of 18 and 50. Current drugs on the market are neither curative, nor specific to this disease and may cause serious adverse effects.

But what is the specificity of this 'anti-lupus' drug?
Lupuzor is a peptide, in other words a part of a protein, and is made up of a particular sequence of amino acids. Unlike certain immunosuppressive drugs that affect the entire immune system, this peptide only targets the precise category of immune cells involved in the disease. It was discovered in 2001 at CNRS' ICT laboratory1 in Strasbourg, a laboratory we cooperate with via a framework partnership agreement signed with CNRS in February 2002. Our strong ties to the ICT lab led us to exploit the existing CNRS patent and, together with CNRS, to extend its protection. Since 2002, four ICT researchers have become shareholders in our company, and Immupharma France has also recently funded a technician position at the ICT laboratory.

Do you collaborate with CNRS on other projects?
We are currently working on an anticancer drug also discovered by the ICT lab, together with two other CNRS laboratories.2 The therapeutic molecule, called HB19, is also a peptide. It binds nucleolin, a protein abundant at the surface of tumor cells and related blood vessels, and inhibits both blood vessels and tumor growth in mice. HB19 could also be used to treat psoriasis, diabetic retinopathy, and to heal wounds. We intend to test this candidate drug next year in a clinical trial. Immupharma France has just funded two positions at CRRT2 for a PhD student and a technician to work on this project. The initial patent was filed by CNRS, and a second one, co-owned with Immupharma, has been filed to protect the method of production of this peptide and to cover the more potent next generation peptide which will be tested in humans early this year.

What other diseases are you targeting?
With the ICT, we are also developing an antibiotic to fight nosocomial infections due to bacteria resistant to common antibiotics. The way it works is quite innovative, as it destroys the bacterial membrane. It is presently at the stage of preclinical development and is also protected by a CNRS patent and joint-patents. Immupharma is also working on a painkiller for severe post-operative and cancer pain. This compound, Cin-met-enkephalin, derived from a natural analgesic, would have fewer side effects, and would last longer than morphine derivatives. Our company also holds a chemical library of almost 300,000 molecules jointly-patented with CNRS. Some of these seem to be active against inflammation, allergies, and malaria.

Interview by Jean-Philippe Braly

Notes :

1. Immunologie et chimie thérapeutiques (CNRS).
2. CRRT: Croissance, réparation et régénération tissulaires (CNRS / Université Paris-XII), and Régulation de la transcription et maladies génétiques (CNRS).

Contacts :

Robert Zimmer,
Immupharma France, Mulhouse.


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