Daiichi Sankyo and UCSF Announce Collaboration in Drug Discovery Research for Neurodegenerative Diseases

By Pete Farley

Daiichi Sankyo Co., Ltd. (hereafter, Daiichi Sankyo) and UC San Francisco (UCSF) have established a drug-discovery collaboration focused on developing novel therapeutics and molecular diagnostics for multiple neurodegenerative diseases.

Under the terms of the agreement, Daiichi Sankyo will provide its compound library to the UCSF Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (IND), and both parties will perform high-throughput compound screening and optimization together. The project will bring together the drug development capabilities of Daiichi Sankyo with the expertise of world-renowned neuroscientists at UCSF, in a collaborative effort to create multiple drug-discovery programs in debilitating disease areas such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and fronto-temporal dementias -- all conditions for which there currently are no effective therapeutics available.

Daiichi Sankyo will provide research funding and milestone payments and royalties for successful clinical progression and commercialization of new products. Daiichi Sankyo will receive the option to enter into an exclusive license agreement to develop and commercialize promising compounds.

“This is a golden opportunity. These diseases require a big-picture approach, and that’s what Daiichi Sankyo is taking,” said Stanley Prusiner, MD, who received the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of prions, a new biological principle of infection. Prions are alternatively folded proteins that undergo replication -- some prions perform critical cellular functions but others cause neurodegenerative diseases. Initially, Prusiner studied prions causing “mad cow” disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), but recently, he and many others have focused their work on other replicating, misfolded proteins— which Prusiner and others argue are prions—that are thought to cause the more common neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

“Alzheimer’s alone kills as many people every year as cancer does, but it only receives one-tenth of the funding that we dedicate to cancer research. This collaboration won’t fill that funding gap, but it will offer the tremendous value of Daiichi Sankyo’s scientific expertise to make progress on these diseases,” said Prusiner, UCSF professor of neurology and director of the IND.

“Daiichi Sankyo is committed to identifying potential new therapies to help fuel our passion to find medicines for the patients who need them. Using the compound screening technology at UCSF, along with their expertise in prion research, will give us an opportunity to explore the potential.  I am excited about this collaboration and look forward to seeing results of this partnership.” said Glenn Gormley, MD, PhD, Senior Executive Officer and Global Head of Research and Development, Daiichi Sankyo Co., Ltd.

Founded in 1999, the UCSF IND is one of the top academic laboratories focused on discovering causes and developing cures for neurodegenerative diseases. As the leader of the IND, which is based at UCSF and includes neuroscience research at several other UC campuses, Prusiner is committed to creating therapeutics and diagnostics that will halt neuronal diseases with his experience in prion research.

Daiichi Sankyo will send scientists from its Venture Science Laboratories (VSL) to work on-site at the IND and will jointly establish the drug discovery programs. VSL was established internally, as a biotech-like organization, in Daiichi Sankyo’s R&D Division in April 2013 in order to further strengthen Daiichi Sankyo’s drug discovery capabilities. With innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, VSL is engaged in drug discovery and early development for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and other high unmet medical needs in age-associated diseases for growing aging population in the world.

About Neurodegenerative Disease

Recent reports estimate that Alzheimer’s afflicts more than 26 million people worldwide and is responsible for 503,000 deaths in the United States each year, compared with 585,700 for cancer. The second most common neurodegenerative disorder, Parkinson’s disease, affects an additional 1 million people in the United States and an estimated 7 million worldwide. While less common, CJD is equally debilitating and fatal. Among the top 10 causes of death in the United States, dementias are the only ones for which no therapies exist that can halt or even slow the progression of disease.

About UC San Francisco

UCSF is the nation’s leading university exclusively focused on health. It is dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences; a preeminent biomedical research enterprise; and two top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

About the UCSF Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Founded in 1999, the IND is committed to creating therapeutics that will halt diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and dementia resulting from traumatic brain injuries. Located in the new, state-of-the-art Sandler Neurosciences Center at UCSF, the IND is at the forefront of discovering diagnostics and therapeutics that will provide relief to those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases that, in the words of British novelist and Alzheimer’s patient Terry Pratchett, can “strip away your living self a bit at a time.” For decades the IND has led the field in basic research on prions and other protein abnormalities and is now applying its time-tested approach to the wave of dementia that threatens our nation.

About Daiichi Sankyo

The Daiichi Sankyo Group is dedicated to the creation and supply of innovative pharmaceutical products to address the diversified, unmet medical needs of patients in both mature and emerging markets. While maintaining its portfolio of marketed pharmaceuticals for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and bacterial infections, the Group is engaged in the development of treatments for thrombotic disorders and focused on the discovery of novel oncology and cardiovascular-metabolic therapies. Furthermore, the Daiichi Sankyo Group has created a “Hybrid Business Model,” which will respond to market and customer diversity and optimize growth opportunities across the value chain. For more information about Daiichi Sankyo, please visit .

About Venture Science Laboratories, Daiichi Sankyo

As part of the effort to increase drug discovery research capabilities, VSL was launched in the Daiichi Sankyo R&D Division in April 2013. As an internal biotech-like organization with the spirit of an independent venture lab, VSL has an unconventional and a distinct managerial style characterized by a rapid decision-making process. VSL will perform drug discovery and early development for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and other high unmet medical needs to create a competitive pipeline and quickly and consistently deliver innovative pharmaceutical products.