Drug majors Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb have given more details about their previously-announced diabetes and obesity pact.

When the firms agreed, in April, to enter into a deal to develop and commercialise B-MS’ late-stage anticoagulant apixaban, an alliance which could be worth up to $1 billion, they also agreed to collaborate on a Pfizer discovery programme for metabolic disorders. This involves research into diacylglycerol acyl transferase-1 (DGAT-1) inhibitors, an enzyme critical to the creation of triglycerides and fat storage.

Pfizer’s DGAT-1 discovery programme includes advanced pre-clinical compounds with potential applications for the treatment of metabolic disorders, notably DGAT-1 inhibitors in-licensed by Pfizer from Bayer in June 2006, including a pre-clinical compound (known as PF-04415060 or BAY 74-4113). Under terms of the agreement, Pfizer will be responsible for all research and early-stage development activities for the metabolic disorders programme, and the companies will jointly conduct Phase III trials and commercialisation activities.

“The worldwide incidence of metabolic disorders is increasing rapidly, and complications from diabetes and obesity are leading causes of disability and mortality globally. DGAT-1 inhibitors have shown promise in pre-clinical testing, and this research program has potential to yield several compounds that may improve treatment options for patients,” said Elliott Sigal, chief scientific officer and president of R&D at B-MS. Ed Harrigan, senior vice president of Pfizer Worldwide Business Development, said the agreement “reflects our efforts to build external alliances and share resources to address significant areas of unmet medical need”.

He added that the agreement is “one part of a collaborative relationship” which combines the strengths of both companies and claimed that Pfizer “continues to look for new strategic opportunities to complement our portfolio of medicines”.

The firms concluded by noting that in studies of obese animals, DGAT-1 inhibitors have been shown to induce weight loss and improve glucose tolerance and lipid levels, which suggest DGAT-1 inhibitors may have the potential to treat obesity, diabetes and dyslipidemia.

Analysts like the look of these deals as the two firms are sharing the risk of developing new products to replace what are some major patent expiries coming up. Generic competition on a number of blockbusters, including the antihypertensive Norvasc (amlodipine), the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) and the antibiotic Zithromax (azithromycin), is starting to savage earnings at Pfizer, while B-MS is getting ready to make up for the impact of copycat versions of the clotbuster Plavix (clopidogrel), which could be on the market in the USA at the end of 2011.