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NZ scientists lead world in osteoporosis deal

NZ scientists lead world in osteoporosis deal

Auckland, 15 August 2002: New discoveries by scientists at The University of Auckland have resulted in a substantial trans-Tasman licensing agreement to develop a potential world-first treatment for osteoporosis, Auckland UniServices Limited announced today.

Johanna Stapelberg, Intellectual Property Manager for UniServices, which owns and manages the University’s intellectual property portfolio, said the deal marked a significant achievement for New Zealand university-led research and offered a prospective drug therapy for a bone-thinning disease now reaching epidemic proportions, particularly among women and the elderly.

Success in commercially developing new drugs based on the discoveries could result in very significant royalty payments to the University, as worldwide sales of osteoporosis drugs now exceed US$2.8 billion and are projected to reach US$9.3 billion by 2009.

“To date, other potential treatments have had serious side effects and have focused solely on reducing factors that cause bone loss. By contrast, the compounds developed by the University team not only appear to be free of side effects, but also have the unique potential to both stop bone loss and actively promote bone-cell growth,” Ms Stapelberg said.

Under the agreement, Melbourne-based biotechnology company, Metabolic Pharmaceuticals Ltd, will develop two drugs discovered by a team led by Professor Ian Reid and Associate Professor Jillian Cornish at the University’s Bone Research Group, in association with Professor Garth Cooper at the School of Biological Sciences.

Osteoporosis affects 56 per cent of women and 29 per cent of men aged over 60. The disease results from an imbalance in the normal bone-rebuilding cycle where ageing bone is broken down by special-purpose cells called osteoclasts and replaced with new bone by the action of bone-building cells, or osteoblasts. Due to the effect loss of estrogen has of accelerating bone loss this bone-thinning process may be accentuated in women immediately after menopause.

In New Zealand, osteoporosis causes 15,000 fractures each year, of which around 3,000 are hip fractures. And for elderly people in particular, Professor Reid said, the consequences of losing independence and mobility can be severe.

“Up to 20 per cent of aged osteoporosis patients die after a hip fracture, and 40 per cent can no longer live independently within a year of their injury,” he said.

The Auckland team began this research more than 10 years ago, by investigating why obese people were less likely to lose bone density than others.

Obtaining significant support from the Health Research Council, the scientists identified the hormones amylin and adrenomedullin, which are associated with obesity, and discovered that fragments of these compounds actively promote bone building. Using this knowledge, the team has developed compounds that can both promote this growth while at the same time reducing bone loss.

To date, the Bone Research Group has conducted extensive testing of the two lead compounds, with promising outcomes published in peer-reviewed journals last year.

“To bring something that started as pure research to this point where we are looking at potential treatments for people with osteoporosis has been an exciting achievement for the whole team,” Associate Professor Cornish said. “If successful, these compounds could bring help to an increasingly large proportion of the population who will be affected by osteoporosis.”

Under the agreement, Metabolic will pay UniServices – which has patented the discoveries on behalf of The University – milestone fees and a royalty in return for exclusive worldwide rights. The Auckland team will continue to be involved in the development of the drugs.

More than 200 million people are estimated to suffer osteoporosis, and the disease is forecast to become a major burden on an ageing society.

“The compounds discovered by the Auckland team are the result of several years of highly original research by people who are recognised as international leaders,” said Chris Belyea, Metabolic’s CEO. “These new discoveries have a strong potential to improve the treatment of osteoporosis, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to develop them.”

Auckland UniServices Limited

Auckland UniServices Limited is New Zealand’s leading knowledge and technology transfer company, linking industry to the resources and skills of The University of Auckland.

UniServices is wholly owned by The University of Auckland. It manages the University’s commercial research contracts, owns and commercialises its intellectual property estate, and forms new companies based around the University’s intellectual property.


Metabolic Pharmaceuticals Ltd (ASX:MBP) is a biotechnology company based in Melbourne, Australia developing a pipeline of pharmaceutical compounds to provide new drugs for world markets, with active programs in obesity, type II diabetes, iron overload and osteoporosis. Metabolic’s most advanced compound is AOD9604 for obesity. The company recently completed intravenous Phase 2A clinical trials on AOD9604 with promising results, and is proceeding into oral Phase 2A clinical trials shortly. AOD9604 directly affects the metabolism of fat and is an analog of a fragment of the human growth hormone molecule.
Further details on the Osteoporosis Compounds, including published information, will be placed on the Metabolic website.

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