QUEBEC CITY, (Quebec), Canada, March 11 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Gilles Gagnon, President and Chief Executive Officer at AEterna Laboratories Inc. (TSX: AEL; Nasdaq: AELA), presented the Company's extensive product pipeline in oncology, endocrinology and infectious diseases at the Bio Square 2004 Conference today in Basel, Switzerland. The presentation included a discussion of the recent addition to its portfolio of ghrelin antagonist compounds that could be promising agents for the management of obesity, as well as the addition of new targets as potential novel anticancer agents. Development of these compounds will be conducted in collaboration with university laboratories in France, Germany and Italy through AEterna's subsidiary, Zentaris GmbH.
Ghrelin is a natural peptide hormone produced by the stomach that increases appetite and induces accumulation of fat tissue. The recent discovery of ghrelin and its receptors opens up new opportunities for the treatment of obesity and eating disorders through the use of ghrelin antagonists to suppress appetite.
Zentaris has recently signed two agreements for the development of ghrelin antagonists with the Laboratory of Aminoacids, Peptides and Proteins of the University of Montpellier, France, directed by Prof. Jean Martinez, and with the Department of Experimental and Environmental Medicine of the University of Milan, Italy, directed by Prof. Vittorio Locatelli. Research projects are targeting the chemical synthesis and pharmacological investigation of new compounds acting as ghrelin antagonists. The design, synthesis and in vitro screening of new chemical entities with ghrelin antagonist properties will be undertaken by Prof. Martinez's group in Montpellier building upon the significant experience of this laboratory in the preparation of analogues of peptide molecules. This will be followed by a pharmacological investigation of the most promising compounds by Prof. Locatelli's group in Milan, who has developed experimental models for the study of eating behavior.
New targets as potential novel anticancer agents
According to an agreement signed in the field of oncology with the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology of Jena, Department of Molecular Cytology, directed by Prof. Eberhard Unger, and the research group of Dr. Helge Prinz at the University of Munster, both in Germany, Zentaris gains access to specific university know-how and screening technologies in the field of proteins of the cytoskeleton. The new substances, available either by the collaborators or synthesised by Zentaris, will be investigated for their ability to interact with mitotic and motor proteins, including the kinesin family. Kinesins are attractive novel targets to design antitumor agents with a new mode of action to overcome the resistance associated with the classical tubulin binders.
Under these agreements Zentaris will support the research expenditure of the university laboratories and retain exclusive rights for the worldwide exploitation of results generated during the collaborations.
"Zentaris has a proven track-record in exploiting such research collaborations with university laboratories, in addition to the work of its internal Drug Discovery unit as a source of innovative development projects," said Dr. Jurgen Engel, Chairman and Managing Director of Zentaris GmbH, Executive Vice President, Global Research & Development, and Chief Operating Officer of AEterna Laboratories Inc.
"These agreements represent an additional step in building a strategic portfolio in endocrinology and oncology, two fields encompassing numerous unmet medical needs," concluded Mr. Gagnon.
About the Obesity Market
It is estimated that 34 million to 61 million Americans are obese, and the worldwide incidence of obesity is increasing by an estimated 1% per year. The global obesity market is expected to reach $1.4 billion by 2008, with annual growth of 12.5%. There is no safe and effective appetite suppressant currently on the market.
About AEterna Laboratories
AEterna Laboratories Inc. along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Zentaris GmbH, is a biopharmaceutical company with an extensive product portfolio, including two marketed products and 14 other product candidates under development in oncology, endocrinology and infectious diseases. Cetrorelix (Cetrotide(R)) is sold in the U.S., Europe and several other countries to the in vitro fertilization market, and is in Phase II clinical trials for endometriosis, uterus myoma and enlarged prostate (BPH). Miltefosine (Impavido(R)) is sold for black fever and has successfully completed a Phase III trial in parasitic skin disease. Neovastat(R) is in a Phase III trial for non-small cell lung cancer. Perifosine, the first orally-active AKT inhibitor, is in Phase II trials for multiple cancers. Several other clinical programs are underway with various potential development candidates, supported by a worldwide network of scientific and marketing partnerships. Furthermore, AEterna benefits from a discovery platform of 100,000 molecules, which is generating promising new compounds.
AEterna also owns 62% of its subsidiary Atrium Biotechnologies Inc. which develops and markets active ingredients and speciality fine chemicals in the health and personal care industry for the cosmetics, chemical, pharmaceutical and nutritional industries. Its international business network and portfolio of over 1,000 products sold to over 2,000 institutional customers and to over 36,000 physicians and other health care professionals, have generated significant growth in sales and earnings since the Company was founded in January 2000. In 2003, Atrium sales exceeded $120 million.
AEterna shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (AEL) and the NASDAQ National Market (AELA). News releases and additional information about AEterna are available on its Web site at http://www.aeterna.com/ .
This press release contains forward-looking statements made pursuant to
the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Securities Litigation Reform Act
of 1995. Forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and
uncertainties, which could cause the Company's actual results to differ
materially from those in the forward-looking statements. Such risks and
uncertainties include, among others, the availability of funds and
resources to pursue R&D projects, the successful and timely completion of
clinical studies, the ability of the Company to take advantage of
business opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry, uncertainties
related to the regulatory process and general changes in economic
conditions. Investors should consult the Company's quarterly and annual
filings with the Canadian and U.S. securities commissions for additional
information on risks and uncertainties relating to the forward-looking
statements. Investors are cautioned not to rely on these forward-looking
statements. The Company does not undertake to update these forward-
AETERNA LABORATORIES INC.