WMU News

Drug development pact brings Tennessee firm to Michigan

Feb. 12, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- A Tennessee firm will develop and commercialize a recent Pharmacia Corp. drug patent donation to Western Michigan University, and the firm will join the growing cluster of life science companies to open research facilities in Kalamazoo.

WMU receives drug patent donation from Pharmacia
(Jan. 22, 2003) Technology transfer of patents for the drug Xemilofiban boosts regional economic development as life sciences research center.

VDDI Pharmaceuticals of Brentwood, Tenn., has been awarded exclusive worldwide rights to a portfolio of patents for the drug Xemilofiban (ZEHM-ih-loe-feye-ban) through a licensing agreement with WMU. The firm was recruited for the work by Kalamazoo economic development agency, Southwest Michigan First, which also has recruited VDDI to open a research facility later this year in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center.

Pharmacia's patent donation to the University was announced in January. VDDI is expected to do development work on the drug, conduct clinical trials in Ireland if such trials are needed and eventually commercialize the drug for use in the treatment of cardiac patients. WMU will enjoy royalties from any profits that result from the drug's successful commercialization.

"Pharmacia made this gift as a way to benefit both the University and the Kalamazoo community," says Dr. Daniel M. Litynski, WMU interim president. "With Southwest Michigan First and WMU's research office working in tandem, the project will serve as an example of how to harness technology transfer as an important economic development tool. This is a model that we want to repeat often."

VDDI will develop Xemilofiban through its global network of resources, which includes offices in Dublin, Ireland, for its European clinical development program; planned new facilities in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center for project management, regulatory affairs, research and development; and new headquarters in the Cool Springs Life Sciences Center of Brentwood, Tenn. The firm also has offices in Connecticut, Florida and Bangkok, Thailand.

"The acquisition of Xemilofiban represents a rare opportunity for VDDI to establish itself as a premier Midwestern pharmaceutical company with a global reach," says Dr. Stephen Porter, VDDI president and chief executive officer. "This development fits perfectly into our business model, which calls for strategic outsourcing and maximum leveraging of our human and financial capital."

In addition to the Xemilofiban work in Kalamazoo, Porter says his firm also will launch a research initiative locally and in Ulster, Northern Ireland, which will focus on medical peptides. VDDI has an agreement with the University of Ulster to commercialize leading-edge medical peptide research at that university. The University of Ulster is regarded as a leader in the UK for biomedical sciences research and has been at the forefront in positioning Northern Ireland as a center of excellence for the biotechnology industry.

VDDI's initial Kalamazoo work force is projected to include seven research specialists. Porter says he will launch the local operation during the second quarter of 2003.

The development is the result of Kalamazoo's new focus on technology transfer, says Barry Broome. Southwest Michigan First's executive director and chief operating officer, who is an advocate of a "license-in" approach to fostering scientific growth in the community.

"Typically, universities and companies develop technology through basic research," says Broome. "Our model calls for acquiring basic research and matching it with companies that can successfully bring the technology to market."

Broome points out that companies, such as large pharmaceutical firms, often decide against developing a product because the eventual market for the product is too small or because the product does not fit the company's core business. Southwest Michigan First, Broome says, is out to mine technology from such firms and channel it through WMU. The donating company will get the benefit of a tax write-off for the gift, and WMU will receive a technology asset that can be used to either attract a firm to develop the product through a licensing agreement or promote academic research if the product is developed within the University.

Xemilofiban, the drug VDDI will develop through the WMU license, is an oral compound that shows promise in preventing heart attacks and other cardiovascular damage due to clotting during such treatments as angioplasty and the placement of stents. Similar products used for the same purpose are administered intravenously, giving Xemilofiban an obvious advantage over what is currently on the market. The drug's intravenous competitors have combined annual revenues of about $1 billion.

Xemilofiban had undergone Phase III clinical trials involving more than 7,000 patients in the United States before development work was discontinued. Porter says his company has recast the clinical and regulatory development program with the assistance of a multinational advisory group.

He says input from a VDDI- sponsored focus group, at a recent American Heart Association meeting suggested that Xemilofiban could be commercialized without additional clinical trials if a restructured dosing scheme and narrowed patient selection is used. However, if that strategy fails, Porter says successful completion of an additional Phase III trial would allow the product to be introduced for sale in about two years. He estimates the annual global market to include more than 2 million patients.

"The Xemi technology will contribute to public health, as it will be developed into a drug that will treat life-threatening cardiovascular diseases with a significant pharmoeconomic advantage and allow us to address a large, unmet medical need in Europe, Canada and Australia," Porter says.

VDDI focuses on pharmaceutical products primarily for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease and infectious diseases. The firm specializes in developing products that

have already shown promise in pre-clinical or human testing, and projects in which the products are novel and offer significant potential advantages to products already on the market or in development.

The recruitment of VDDI for the project grew out of a series of Innovation Forums put on by Southwest Michigan First and ARCH Development Fund, a venture capital organization. The forums are designed to match investors with companies that have promising technology.

VDDI's Porter says he was attracted by support from the local community and the Kalamazoo area's storied history in pharmaceutical development that has left the area with a wealth of drug development expertise.

"Scientific and regulatory talent is hard to come by," Porter notes. "They're usually content with their existing environment and do not want to be uprooted."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
269 387-8400