Oslo Research park, GSK-Novartis deal, and Viagra now for women

Summer holidays accosted me from updating this blog for the past few weeks but rest assured there will hopefully be more regular updates from now. Three interesting news items currently in press:

  1. The Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park will be opened tomorrow by Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg and represents a big step taken by the Norwegian government to boost research activity in the region. Costing about 1.3 billion Euro to build and covering a 36 000 sqm area, the park will contain the Oslo university hospital, the Norwegian Radium Hospital Research Foundation, a cancer genetics research institute and registry, a biotech incubator, a high school, and various global pharma and Norwegian biotech companies. Two-thirds of the funding for building of the research cluster was derived from private investors while the rest was covered by the state. Many of the companies are focussed on immuno-oncology, including Polaris, a joint venture between Targovax and Oncos Therapeutics as well as local Norwegian upstarts, Nordic Nanovector, Ultimovacs and PCI Biotech.

  2. GSK recently sold off its rights to a mid-stage multiple sclerosis treatment, Ofatumumab, to Novartis for up to $1 billion USD. Ofatumumab is a CD20-targeting monoclonal antibody that is also being used in cancer treatment. The purchase reflects a growing strategic trend for big pharmas to swap assets in an effort to focus on their key strengths. For Novartis, it had already spent $16 billion last year to acquire much of GSK’s cancer business. GSK in turn bought over Novartis’ vaccine businesses for up to $7.1 billion. Furthermore, both companies have teamed up to start a joint consumer health division for over-the-counter drugs. Eli Lilly is also following suit, purchasing Novartis’ struggling animal health division for $5.4 billion.

  3. Finally, the FDA has approved the first treatment for hyposexual desire disorder for premenopausal women. Marketed as a pink pill, it was made by Sprout Pharmaceuticals and is called Addyi, with the chemical name of flibanserin. However the approval is marked by controversy as it was made only after two former rejections and comes with strict regulations on its use due to dangerous side-effects such as low blood pressure and fainting. Unlike Viagra which works by increasing bloodflow to the essential organ, flibanserin functions to regulate serotonin and dopaminergic effects in the brain, binding to several 5-HT (serotonergic) receptors and dopaminergic receptors with varying affinities and activities. Although the exact mechanism on how it might stimulate female libido is not clear, high levels of serotonin in the brain is known to inhibit sexual libido. And in rats, flibanserin preferentially increased dopamine and norepinephrine levels while decreasing serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex. Clinical studies however suggest the effects may be mild, with women on average reporting an increase of one sexual encounter per month, though the producers claim the effects were greater in some women. Following the approval, Sprout Pharmaceuticals was  acquired by Valeant for 1 billion USD and CEO Cindy Whitehead will continue in her current role while reporting to Valeant CEO Anne Whitaker.
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