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Institut Pasteur Korea and Sanofi open a new research collaboration to combat HBV

November 02, 2011, Seoul, S. Korea One of the most common and serious infectious diseases, Hepatitis B, is to be targeted in a new collaborative venture between the internationally-renowned translational research institute, Institut Pasteur Korea (IP-K), and the Korean arm of the leading global healthcare company, Sanofi-Aventis Korea. The goal is to develop and validate a high throughput assay to screen IP-K's chemical libraries for novel compounds that can be developed as new drugs.

Despite the availability of medicines and a vaccine, about 5% of the global population, that is about 350 million people worldwide, is chronic carrier of the hepatitis B virus (HBV). A proportion of those chronically infected - as high as 8% of the population in some Asian countries, including Korea and China - is under risk of deterioration into liver cirrhosis and cancer.

"This new research collaboration provides a textbook example of modern drug discovery in action," says Dr. Marc Windisch, who will lead the team at IP-K. "It brings promising basic research from an academic laboratory that of Dr. Wang-Shik Ryu of the Department of Biochemistry at Yonsei University in Seoul into the high-throughput translational research environment at IP-K." IP-K researchers are developing cellular models enabling the identification of inhibitors that target a specific step in the viral life cycle. Once perfected, those cellular models will be used to comprehensively screen IP-K's compound libraries for novel antiviral interventions.

The development work at IP-K will be undertaken in partnership with research scientists from Sanofi, which will help to take the lead of promising compounds through optimization, development and commercialization. "Our open innovation strategy is to elucidate Asian-specific diseases and to collaborate with leading institutions", said Frank Jiang, VP and Head of TSU Asia Pacific R&D at Sanofi. "The translational capabilities of IP-K will facilitate the discovery of drugs based on novel mechanisms to combat HBV, which is responsible for 38% of all cancer deaths in Korea".

Currently, most available HBV drugs inhibit reverse transcription, the process by which the virus RNA is transcribed into DNA for replication. However, new therapies are needed to compensate for the emerging resistance of the virus to these drugs. In contrast to the existing approaches, the IP-K screening effort focuses on compounds that interfere with the assembly of the HBV capsid, the outer shell of the virus. This approach is aimed at preventing the release of infectious virus particles into the bloodstream, thereby reducing the viral load in patients.

The leaders of the collaborating organizations share enthusiasm for the project. "We are excited to pave the way for connecting an excellent research output of Yonsei University to Sanofi, a global healthcare leader. This is a sophisticated approach that will accelerate the discovery of drugs to combat HBV," explains Dr. Ulf Nehrbass, CEO of IP-K. "It reduces cost, opens the door to entirely new classes of drugs, and offers new insights into the mechanisms of disease." Dr. Jae Eun Kim, the team leader at Sanofi also expects successful research achievements, and said, "This project will be a great opportunity to open a new era in HBV treatment.

Under the terms of condition, Sanofi will fund the initial phase of the project that is anticipated to last for one year, from which IP-K and Sanofi staff will jointly determine which compounds should be brought forward for optimization and further development. It is, "one of the foremost projects on HBV drug development being undertaken today and the new therapy will significantly increase possibility for complete recovery from Hepatitis B when supplemented by the current treatments." adds Dr. Wang-Shik Ryu.

This R&D collaboration was made possible by the Global Alliance Project (GAP) framework, which Sanofi-Aventis Korea launched with KOTRA and KHIDI in June, 2009.


Contact: Jean Kim
Institut Pasteur Korea

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