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A step ahead in the fight against hepatitis

Over 350 million people worldwide carry the hepatitis B virus. “Some may subsequently develop cirrhosis or liver cancer. They require treatment quickly.” These observations from Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, CEO of Idenix, help us better understand the efforts of manufacturers to develop more effective drugs with fewer side effects. In this “competition,” Idenix is poised to fare very well. Created in 1998, this biopharmaceutical company is currently preparing a request for authorization to launch a promising drug against the disease. Telbivudine–as the molecule is called–is a nucleoside antiviral that can halt or delay the replication of the virus within a cell. It is currently being tested on several thousand patients and should be available on the market by 2006 in the United States and by 2007 in Europe and Asia.1

 The Idenix adventure began nearly 20 years ago. At the time, the research team of Gilles Gosselin and Jean-Louis Imbach, at the Biomolecular Synthesis Organic Chemistry Laboratory  in Montpellier,2  was working with a group led by Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, a pharmacology research scientist in the United States. In 1998, the two researchers in Montpellier filed for a patent on telbivudine. That same year, Sommadossi founded his company. In 1999, the three men decided to create a Cooperative Laboratory  within the Montpellier laboratory.3 Six years later, Idenix is thriving. It focuses on three major areas: in Montpellier, the Cooperative Laboratory searches for new antiviral nucleoside analogues, while another Idenix unit works on other classes of antiviral molecules. These molecules are then tested on cell cultures infected with various viruses in a laboratory at the University of Cagliari, in Italy. Finally, the semi-large scale synthesis of the potential drug, as well as preclinical and clinical tests, are coordinated in Cambridge, MA, in the United States.
 Today Idenix has taken the lead in developing drugs against both hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The company is betting on another molecule, valtorcitabine, to fight hepatitis B. When combined with telbivudine, it helps lower the concentration of the virus in the blood of the most seriously infected patients. The next major challenge: to launch the first drug against hepatitis C. “Currently our attention is focused on the virus structure in order to design new molecules,” says Gosselin. For now, a drug candidate is being tested on a few hundred patients. If all goes well, clinical trials on a larger number of patients will begin in 2006.

Julien Bourdet

Notes :

1. The drug will be marketed with Novartis, which holds a 54% stake in Idenix.
2. Laboratoire de Chimie Organique Biomoléculaire de synthèse. Joint lab: CNRS/ Université Montpellier-II.
3. Laboratoire cooperatif. Joint lab: Idenix / CNRS / University Montpellier-II. The patents are shared between all three partners. Idenix pays royalties to CNRS and the University Montpellier-II.

Contacts :

Gilles Gosselin
Idenix, Montpellier
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