Scientists secure funds for addiction firm

Treatment for nicotine, alcohol and cocaine dependency is the focus of research at Addex Keystone Archive

Several prominent scientists have broken away from their parent companies to form a Swiss firm, which aims to create drugs to treat addiction.

This content was published on July 15, 2002 - 17:04

The new company, Addex Pharmaceuticals, will focus on compounds for nicotine, alcohol and cocaine dependence.

"Existing treatments don't really cure the disease," said Addex's chief executive François Conquet, who headed the department of experimental pathology at Lausanne University.

"If you want to quit smoking, you might have the option of a patch or chewing gum but there's nothing to actually treat the addiction. For alcohol and all drug dependence, it's exactly the same."

Addex has secured SFr15 million ($10 million) in funding from several venture capital firms including Index Ventures and Paris-based Soffinova Partners

Spiralling costs

According to the United Nations, about 4.4 million people in Europe and the United States suffer from addiction to heroin, cocaine and amphetamines.

It costs the US an estimated $300 billion a year to treat and combat drug addiction.

"Addiction is a large under-served market and significant public health issue," Conquet told swissinfo.

"Everyone knows that the cost to society of drug dependence is enormous, and on top of the primary costs for detox, you also have indirect costs from violence and secondary diseases induced by nicotine and alcohol."

Trigger mechanism

Conquet said that while the degree of addiction varied from drug to drug, they all induced dependence and shared the same mechanisms.

The research could therefore lead to treatment for other neuropsychiatric conditions such as bulimia or anorexia or even gambling.

"It might well be that if this mechanism is valid for drug dependency, it might also be valid for another range of dependencies," he said.

The team

Conquet's research in Lausanne was funded by British drug maker, GlaxoSmithKline.

Mark Epping-Jordan, who directed behavioural investigations in Lausanne, will be chief scientific officer for Addex. He and Conquet collaborated on therapeutic targets for drug dependence.

Vincent Mutel, who will be Addex's head of drug discovery and development, led research into central nervous systems pharmacology at Swiss drug giant, Roche.

Jean-Philippe Rocher, who held the same role for GlaxoSmithKline in
Japan, will be head of chemistry at Addex.

Spin-offs

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly spinning off their non-core research and development operations to hone research and speed up the time it takes to develop drugs.

Breakaway operations are less common but often reflect the frustration scientists face with bureaucracy at big pharmaceutical companies.

"We found decision-making to be slow and inefficient and would get worse in a consolidating industry. And we wanted to work on one project - therapy - and in one structure to reach our goal," said Conquet.

Among Index and Soffinova's past investments are Actelion, the Swiss biotech spun out of Roche in 1997.

In August, the US Food and Drug Administration gave Actelion the green light for its heart drug, Tracleer, co-promoted by US biotech company Genentech.

by Vincent Landon

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