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Roche Licenses First-in-Class Treatments for Chronic Pain to Afferent Pharmaceuticals

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Roche announced it has licensed its P2X3i receptor program aimed at developing first-in-class treatments for chronic pain to Afferent Pharmaceuticals. Afferent was co-founded by Anthony Ford, Ph.D., Pappas Ventures, and Third Rock Ventures, and is focused on developing compounds that treat chronic pain by targeting a novel biological pathway.

In conjunction with this announcement, Afferent successfully closed a $23 million Series A financing, which was led by Third Rock Ventures and Pappas Ventures, and included Domain Associates and New Leaf Venture Partners. Proceeds from the financing will be used to accelerate the development of P2X3 receptor targeted pain therapies.

More than 270 million people worldwide suffer from chronic pain. While product reformulations or combinations of established molecules have led to new product introductions, there has been little recent success in identifying novel mechanisms for successfully managing and treating pain.

Existing therapeutic approaches such as opioids, antiepileptic drugs and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including COX-2 inhibitors, have documented drawbacks in inadequately addressing patient needs and presenting safety, efficacy, tolerability and addiction concerns.

“A major drawback of existing pain medications is their lack of specificity for pain pathways,” commented Dr. Ford, who will serve as chief scientific officer of Afferent.

“Afferent is poised to lead the way with an entirely novel, targeted mechanism for treating chronic pain. Research shows that P2X3-containing receptors are highly specific to nerve fibers that transmit the sensations of pain and discomfort in response to inflammation or injury, particularly in chronic conditions. P2X3 antagonism represents a breakthrough and potentially transformative approach to treating chronic pain associated with conditions such as osteoarthritis, back pain, visceral pain and neuropathy. Our preclinical and clinical data on this program suggest a very compelling first-in-class, orally delivered product, and we look forward to initiating clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of the lead product candidate, AF-219, in several indications early in 2010.”

Dr. Ford is a former vice president of research at Roche who initiated and drove the P2X3 program for the last decade, including collaboration with Professor Geoffrey Burnstock of University College London, a leading expert in the P2X3 receptor area. Dr. Ford brings more than 20 years of research and development experience at Roche and Syntex to Afferent. Liam Ratcliffe, M.D., Ph.D., Afferent Board member and venture partner, New Leaf Venture Partners, will work closely with Dr. Ford and play a key role in advising the company on clinical development strategies.

“Understanding how pain is processed at each stage in the peripheral and central nervous system is key to developing safe and effective therapies for the treatment of pain,” commented Dr. Ratcliffe. “We now understand that P2X3 is an important receptor in a variety of pain conditions and provides an opportunity to block pain at its source. We believe Afferent is well positioned to be the leader in P2X3 targeted drugs and fully exploit this opportunity.”

Afferent has exclusively licensed the P2X3 program from Roche. Dan Zabrowski, Global Head of Partnering, Roche commented, “We consider the P2X3 pathway to be an innovative and promising area worthy of further clinical development. Investing this program, related assets and intellectual property in Afferent provides the ideal focused vehicle to ensure this opportunity can be maximized for the potential benefit of the millions of patients suffering from chronic pain. We are very pleased to be collaborating with Dr. Ford and this leading life sciences syndicate to launch Afferent and advance the P2X3 program.”