Amgen begins testing drug for Parkinson's

It contains compounds Hopkins researcher linked to cell renewal

August 05, 1999|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Biotechnology giant Amgen Inc. said yesterday that it has begun human testing of an experimental nerve regeneration drug to treat Parkinson's disease.

The drug was licensed in August 1997 from Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Baltimore, which in turn had licensed it from the Johns Hopkins University.

The amount Guilford receives will depend on how many neuro-degenerative conditions can be successfully treated with the drugs, which are based on compounds known as neuroimmunophilins.

Amgen is interested in using the compounds to treat 10 medical conditions, ranging from traumatic brain and spinal injuries to multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Guilford stands to receive as much as $425 million from Amgen if all 10 applications are successful.

Dr. Craig R. Smith, Guilford's president and chief executive officer, said the human trials in Europe are an "important milestone" in the development of neuroimmunophilins.

Dr. Solomon Snyder, a Hopkins neuroscience researcher, discovered that neuroimmunophilins are key links in a variety of brain nerve cell functions. The compounds are believed to play an important role in regenerating nerve cell branches.

Amgen has been unusually quiet about the Parkinson's project. David Kaye, an Amgen spokesman, said yesterday that the European trials started about a week ago. Biotechnology analysts had speculated that Amgen had started testing the drug in Europe this year.

The drug is being tested on a small group of healthy volunteers at an undisclosed location to make sure it causes no adverse reactions.

If it clears that hurdle, the company likely would seek permission to begin testing the drug in the United States on patients with Parkinson's, which is characterized by tremors in the face and limbs, Kaye said. The decision on the next step will not be made until after the European safety data is reviewed.

If Amgen seeks Food and Drug Administration approval to perform human tests in the United States, it would trigger a $5 million payment to Guilford, said Stacey Jurchison of Guilford.

If the drug proves beneficial, it could represent a whole new approach to treating Parkinson's and possibly other neuro-degenerative conditions.

Current treatments for Parkinson's, which afflicts about 500,000 Americans, include medications that stimulate dopamine production in the brain. For some patients, that alleviates symptoms and slows the disease's progress.

Another approach is a device approved last year by the FDA that allows Parkinson's patients to send electric pulses to a wire implanted in their brains to interrupt tremor signals.

Shares in Amgen, which generates $1 billion annually on sales of two drugs to treat anemia, closed yesterday at $77.0625, up 43.75 cents. Shares in Guilford, which announced an $8.6 million second-quarter loss yesterday, closed at $13.9375, down $2.375.

Pub Date: 8/05/99

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