Preclinical-stage firm is developing drugs that modulate cannabinoid pathways.

MAKScientific, a company focused on therapeutics that modulate cannabinoid pathways, entered into an exclusive, worldwide option and collaboration agreement with Biogen Idec in multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurodegenerative diseases. Biogen Idec will receive an option for an exclusive license to select discovery-stage MAKScientific drug candidates for all indications worldwide.

Upon Biogen Idec’s exercise of the option, MAKScientific will receive an exercise fee of up to $3 million and up to an additional $31 million in milestone payments associated with the clinical development of the drug candidates. In addition, MAKScientific will be eligible to royalties on net sales worldwide.

The company says that its technology provides a way to create medications without the undesirable psychotropic side effects associated with cannabis. It has designed and synthesized compounds that are in advanced preclinical development for the treatment of obesity and metabolic disorders, neuropathic and inflammatory pain, addiction, and neurodegenerative diseases. The firm holds an extensive library of over 12,000 druggable compounds covering the key therapeutic areas it is pursuing.

The human body produces endogenous cannabinoids called endocannabinoids, a family of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. A major role of the endocannabinoid system is to protect brain cells from neuronal damage. This is accomplished by releasing endocannabinoids that are subsequently deactivated by special enzymes, the most promising of which is fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Compounds capable of selectively inhibiting this enzyme can produce increased levels of endocannabinoids capable of neuroprotective action. 

For this reason, FAAH inhibitors can serve as medications for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis as well as Parkinson and Alzheimer disease. MAKScientific says that it has developed FAAH inhibitors with demonstrated potent neuroprotective properties and excellent safety profiles. Of these, MAK5206 is being explored as a medication for multiple sclerosis.

Biogen Idec’s MS pipeline comprises Peg IFN, BG-12, and daclizumab, all of which are in Phase III for relapsing forms. Anti-Lingo is being investigated in Phase I. The company’s approved portfolio of MS medications include Avonex (relapsing remitting), Tysabri (relapsing remitting), and Ampyra (to improve walking). All approved candidates are being further studied in other types of MS as well as in different formulations.

Last year Tysabri’s revenues increased 20% year-over-year to $1.1 billion. Avonex revenues increased 7% year-over-year to $2.7 billion. And Ampyra, which began selling in 2011, logged about $13.57 million in 2011.

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