Turning the traditional drug discovery model on its head and challenging conventional wisdom has proven to be good medicine for Kalamazoo-based Metabolic Solutions Development Company, LLC (MSDC). The five-year old company, founded by two former Upjohn Company scientists, Jerry Colca, PhD and Rolf Kletzien, PhD, is tackling the combination of metabolic disorders that, taken together, increase the risk of developing diabetes and other diseases. The company’s unique approach to advancing decades-old diabetes drug therapy by targeting mitochondrial control of key metabolic pathways drew the attention of investors like Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund and West Michigan venture capital firm Hopen Life Science Ventures, both early investors in MSDC.
“MSDC was founded with the intention of disproving what we ‘thought’ we knew about both the cost to develop a new type 2 diabetes drug and how to treat a root cause of the disease (insulin resistance). Drs. Colca and Kletzien founded the company with the belief that targeting a particular nuclear receptor was wrong and that insulin resistance was the result of altered mitochondrial function,” said Mark Olesnavage, managing director of Hopen Life Science Ventures and chairman of the MSDC board of directors. “Since Hopen’s first investment in 2006, the company has identified an extremely novel molecular target, protected the intellectual property behind the discoveries, and continued to further elucidate the metabolic pathways essential to understanding how these new drugs work in patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.”
Previously, research and development of a novel target for an ambitious drug therapy had been the domain of the very large pharmaceutical companies due to the massive amounts of capital required to fund such a discovery and drug development program. MSDC represents a new quasi-“virtual” pharmaceutical development business model, contracting out some research and development activities while keeping overhead low. So far the company has raised $50 million in private funding and venture capital, which Olesnavage says the company has used very efficiently. “Big pharmaceutical companies might employ several times that amount to reach the same point we’re at with our drug discovery and development program.”
MSDC’s efficient use of capital hasn’t hampered research. “We’ve connected a lot of dots and contributed to a new way of thinking about metabolic diseases associated with altered mitochondrial function,” said Stephen Benoit, CEO of MSDC. “We’re building an expansive patent portfolio with our knowledge of the target and how it works. Considerable excitement is building about what we have accomplished over the past five years with a relatively modest amount of money—and that’s a real credit to Jerry’s and Rolf’s vision and the unusually talented team of scientific professionals they have attracted to the company. Moreover, we’ve advanced two novel oral diabetes drugs into phase 2 clinical trials, and we are collaborating with world-class institutions to create data that continues to validate our approach. All in all, it’s extremely gratifying!”
Benoit anticipates building on the company’s momentum with the pending completion of MSDC’s two clinical trials. The pioneer compound, MSDC-0160, is in a 330-patient Phase 2b clinical trial with results expected in the first quarter of 2012. The second compound, MSDC-0602, is expected to complete its Phase 2a clinical trial later this summer. Olesnavage is cautiously optimistic that these trial results will represent a significant step forward in the drug’s advancement to market.
In addition to the compounds’ potential for treating metabolic disorders, MSDC scientists believe the drugs may also prove beneficial as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. There is growing evidence to suggest that loss of mitochondrial function and a decline in brain glucose metabolism could be contributing factors in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A grant from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, the only non-profit organization whose sole mission is to accelerate the discovery and development of drugs to prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease, will fund a small Phase 2a clinical study starting in July to assess MSDC-0160’s potential as a new treatment for this increasingly prevalent disease.
“The potential for MDSC’s drug discoveries to positively affect the lives of people suffering from a variety of metabolic diseases is really exciting,” said Olesnavage. “From diabetes to obesity to Alzheimer’s, these are life-threatening conditions that often result in death for which MDSC’s compounds could someday offer real hope.”