PARIS: French biotech company Neovacs is confident that its experimental drug to treat lupus could grab significant market share from standard treatments of the auto-immune disease, its chief executive said.
About 5 million people globally suffer from some form of lupus, the Lupus foundation of America says, affecting multiple organs and leading to a range of symptoms that can include skin rashes, swollen joints and fevers.
Until now, treatments from the likes of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and AstraZeneca's MedImmune have focused on the use of monoclonal antibodies, but Neovacs is working on therapeutic vaccines covered by five patent families it calls kinoids, with patent protection until 2032.
Chief Executive Miguel Sieler said that Neovacs, which has secured supply of a key component for its products with U.S. company Stellar Biotechnologies, is in a phase IIb study for a kinoid treatment in lupus, results of which are expected in June next year.
"This will be the company's moment of truth," he told Reuters. "If successful, these results will prove our technology works on humans and we will have work for the next 25 years."
Britain's GSK won U.S. approval for its lupus monoclonal antibody drug, Benlysta, in 2011 - then the first drug approval for the condition in more than 50 years. MedImmune has joined the race for new treatments with anifrolumab, another monoclonal candidate, now in phase III trials.
Neovacs, meanwhile, says that kinoids are cheaper to manufacture than monoclonal antibodies and CEO Sieler said the company hopes to achieve annual sales of at least 1 billion euros (US$1.2 billion) if its lupus treatment hits the market.
Negotiations are already under way with three pharmaceutical companies over exclusive distribution rights, he added.
Neovacs is also in phase IIa trials for a kinoid treatment for dermatomyositis - a rare inflammatory disease - and is also looking at type 1 diabetes.
"We see a use for our products in several therapeutic areas such as age-related macular degeneration and cancer," Sieler said.
"Where we go next will largely depend on next year's results in lupus."
(US$1 = 0.8365 euros)
(Editing by David Goodman)