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Drug development company partners with center at MIT and Harvard

April 16, 2014
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Drug development company partners with psychiatric center at MIT and Harvard
Mark Gurney. Courtesy Tetra Discovery Partners

A local drug development company is now partners with a center for psychiatric research at MIT and Harvard.

Tetra Discovery Partners, located at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences in Grand Rapids, said this month that it has entered a drug development collaboration with the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research in Cambridge, Mass., which is part of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

The well-funded and established center will work with Tetra on a drug that could curb the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, said Mark Gurney, Tetra founder and CEO.

Validation

Gurney said it is a tremendous honor to be working with the members of the Stanley Center team.

“We’re a small West Michigan startup, and we have the attention of this great, amazing research institute in Cambridge,” Gurney said. “It validates the quality of our science that we would get to work with this amazing team.

The collaboration will bring together “significant resources and people to discover the next generation of drugs to treat major psychiatric diseases,” Gurney said.

“There is a need to better predict the potential efficacy of drugs with new mechanisms of action in translational models and to better select patients for clinical trials,” Gurney said. “The team at the Stanley Center understands this challenge. This collaboration gives our schizophrenia program the highest chance of success.”

Parallel research

The roots of the collaboration began last year when Gurney connected with the center on a particular common enemy and drug target: an enzyme called phosphodiesterase 4, or PDE4.

Tetra has been working on developing a PDE4 inhibitor drug to help curb memory loss in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Gurney said.

When he saw in an annual report that the Stanley Center was working on something similar for schizophrenia, he called up Edward Scolnick, the center’s chief scientific officer.

“I told him we were leaders in developing drugs against this target and asked ‘Would you be interested in collaboration?’” Gurney said.

Scolnick agreed.

“The Stanley Center is pleased to work with an innovative young company like Tetra to better understand the potential of their compounds for treating memory impairment in schizophrenia,” Scolnick said. “There is a need to evaluate new drugs with new mechanisms of action in serious psychiatric diseases. We welcome the opportunity to work with Tetra to lay the groundwork to help meet that need.”

Trials

Tetra and the Stanley Center want to test the drug with schizophrenia first, because schizophrenic clinical trials are shorter and the unmet need is large, Gurney said.

Alzheimer’s trials are longer and more costly. Although the drug, if developed properly, could work to curb both diseases, which share common pathways.

With Alzheimer’s disease, the drug would be able to curb memory loss, but not cure the overall decay the disease is infamous for. With schizophrenia, however, the drug could have life-long benefits.

Time to market

Early stage clinical trials are expected to start in 2015, and mid-stage clinical trials with patients in 2016.

If the phases of clinical trial are successful, the drug would still be about six to eight years out from hitting the market.

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