Daniel Erne, Ph.D., svp and CTO at Bachem (www.bachem.com), says that growth in the peptide market is being driven by the need for highly specific drugs for unmet medical need. Thus, his company is constantly investing. “In the last two years we have spent more than 30 million Swiss Francs ($28 million) each year, and it looks as if we are going to continue at this pace,” notes Dr. Erne. The company supplies big pharma and biotech, making up to hundreds of kilograms of peptide if necessary.
“There is a real ground swell in preclinical and Phase I work using peptides,” Dr. Ede adds. “This is because peptides often have higher specific activity and lower toxicity compared with many small molecule drugs.” Dr. Joshi adds that there are now some interesting peptides in clinical trials with, for instance, cyclized disulfide bridges or carboxyls coupled to hydroxyls in their backbones. One such candidate, with four disulfide bridges, is in Phase II/III for brain glioma.
There are also complex peptide vaccine candidates, which are cocktails of peptides. “The most important peptide drugs today are the hormone-dependent treatments,” according to Dr. Erne. These include treatments for cancer, diabetes, obesity, and bone metabolism. Additionally, companies are developing various peptide mimetic drugs such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Phase II molecule for hepatitis C.
“Efforts in GMP synthesis have brought down the cost of developing peptides,” points out Dr. Ede. “Now it is not outrageous to take a 30 mer this far. This has paved the way to experimental drugs as therapeutics such as antidiabetic peptides.”
Roche’s anti-HIV agent, Fuzeon, and Amylin Pharmaceuticals’ Exenatide for diabetes are leading market expansion and driving down the cost of large-scale peptide synthesis. Both have a chain length that would not have been possible five to ten years ago. “Costs have dropped significantly, with better availability for FMOC amino acids, resins, and the basic needs,” explains Dr. Ede.
“The development of Fuzeon means new players came into peptide supply. There is far more growth than there was a decade ago.” As peptides become more important as viable drugs, they become commodity items, and there is more pressure upon prices.