University of Queensland‘s spin-off biotech company Protagonist Therapeutics is getting closer to developing peptide-based first-in-class oral drugs for treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). The oral therapy has the potential to benefit millions of IBD patients worldwide.
Protagonist Therapeutics raised $118 million in Australian dollars (roughly $91 million in U.S. dollars) in its initial public offering of $7.5 million shares earlier this month. Shares began trading on NASDAQ on August 11 under the symbol “PTGX”.
The company notes on its website that there were an estimated 1.6 million IBD patients in the United States in 2013. Global Data in 2012 estimated that UC and CD markets had reached approximately $4.2 billion and $3.2 billion, respectively across ten major markets. The markets were expected to grow at a compound annual rate of approximately 3-5 percent through 2022.
Protagonist Therapeutics further observes that current tumor necrosis factor-alpha antibody drugs approved for the treatment of moderate-to-severe IBD, Humira and Remicade, are both injectable and that approximately one-third of the IBD patients do not respond to TNF antibody drugs. Approximately another 30-40 percent become unresponsive within the first year of treatment.
According to the company, the benefits of peptide-based, orally administered IBD therapy include:
- Localized delivery with higher drug concentrations at site of active disease.
- Reduced risk of infections caused by injections or infusions.
- Greater convenience leading to increased patient compliance.
- Oral and gastrointestinal-restricted delivery minimizes systemic exposure in the blood.
- Peptides can be cleared more quickly from systemic circulation.
- Likelihood of lower immunogenicity reduces risk of loss of response.
- Lower cost of production, storage, and shipping.
- Less complex manufacturing processes required.
Scientific discussion of a peptide-based approach to treating IBD can be found in the 2012 ebook “Antimicrobial Peptides and Inflammatory Bowel Disease” by Simon Jäger, Eduard F. Stange, and Jan Wehkamp
Headquartered in Milpitas, California, Protagonist Therapeutics was established in 2001. Based on research by UQ Associate Professor Mark Smythe, it is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company with a proprietary technology platform focused on discovering and developing peptide-based new treatments for unmet medical needs. The company also conducts research at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience in Brisbane, Australia, and is backed by healthcare giants Lilly and Johnson & Johnson.
“Most inflammatory bowel disease treatments are injectable, so the development of an oral drug with few side effects would give us a distinct edge over our competition,” Smythe said in a UQ press release. “This will be no easy feat, as the digestive system is a very complicated route for oral peptides, but these investments will help us take our discoveries in to the clinic where they will ultimately benefit patients.”
Brandon Wainwright, director of UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience said Protagonist’s NASDAQ stock exchange listing highlighted the potential global impact of the Institute’s life sciences research.
“Discovery research is essential to further our understanding of disease and develop better treatments to help improve patients’ quality of life,” Wainwright said.
University of Queensland
Protagonist Therapeutics Inc.