Unigene forms joint venture to develop oral peptide drugs with Nordic Bioscience

Unigene Laboratories has hammered out a new pact to propel development of novel peptide drugs using its oral formulation technology. Nordic Bioscience, a Danish drug and diagnostic development outfit, is collaborating with Unigene on a joint venture focused on developing oral peptide treatments for blockbuster markets in type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, according to Unigene.

Nordic Chairman Dr. Claus Christensen has also made a $1.5 million equity investment in Boonton, NJ-based Unigene ($UGNE) and grabbed options to bet up to $4.5 million more on the U.S. developer over the next 9 months, pumping up to $6 million into the firm through his research foundation. That investment will give Unigene more cash as it moves ahead with the new 50-50 joint venture with Nordic, which has agreed to handle development of the oral calcitonin analog drugs from its partner through Phase II proof-of-concept studies.

The deal is a win for Unigene Chief Executive Ashleigh Palmer, who took the reins last year. Palmer has focused the firm on advancing novel drugs that use its technology for manufacturing and delivering oral formulations of therapeutic peptides, which are protein fragments that are typically injected in patients. Also, the pact builds on upbeat Phase III data from an oral calcitonin drug that its partner Tarsa Therapeutics is developing in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis. By the end of this year, Unigene and partner GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) expect to report mid-stage trial data on a separate oral peptide drug against osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, according to Unigene.

"Historically, our efforts have been focused on repurposing established peptide therapeutics, such as calcitonin and PTH. We have now received validation of our novel, proprietary compounds, having survived Nordic's rigorous biomarker screening," Palmer said in statement. "This collaboration transforms Unigene from a leading drug delivery partner to a legitimate biopharmaceutical development company."

- here are the JV release and investment announcement

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