Shares in UK drugmaker Phytopharm were on the rise this morning after the group announced an alliance with the private, not-for-profit, US research organisation CHDI Foundation under which Cogane will be assessed as a treatment for Huntington’s disease (HD).

HD is a hereditary, degenerative condition that causes the programmed death of brain cells, leading to both cognitive ultimately fatal. The current prognosis for patients is relatively poor as, once symptoms present, life expectation ranges from 15 to 20 years, and as yet there are no and physical impairments that significantly affect quality of life and are therapies available to slow down symptom onset and progression of the disease. It is estimated that around 6,500-8,000 people in the UK and 30,000 in the US suffer from condition.

Phytopharm’s lead compound, Cogane (PYM50028) is a novel non-peptide, orally bioavailable neurotrophic factor which is also beign tested as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. In preclinical models, the drug has shown its ability to boost the production of neurotrophic factors, including BDNF, levels of which are reduced in the brains of patients with HD.

Increasing levels of BDNF has long been considered a potential treatment for the disease, but because it is a protein it cannot be administered orally as it would be degraded by the digestive system. Cogane, however, can be given orally to stimulate the body’s own production of BDNF in the brain, so thereby offers the means to “overcome the technical difficulties associated with exogenous BDNF administration”, the company claims.

Under the terms of the deal, financial details of which were not revealed, CHDI will fund the assessment of Cogane within in its own network of contract research organisations, and it is expected that preclinical testing will be completed during the first quarter of 2010.

Sandy Morrison, chief executive Phytopharm, said the company is “delighted” to have teamed up with CHDI and that the partnership is indicative of its “ongoing strategy of partnering with leading charities in order to facilitate the progression of our pharmaceutical pipeline".

Stock boost
News of the deal and a new indication for Cogane also seems to have been met with approval by group’s shareholders - with stock having gained nearly 8% by mid-morning trading on the London Stock Exchange.

Investors will be particularly pleased as the company’s business strategy is now heavily focused on Cogane and the Lou Gehrig’s treatment Myogane, following a sudden restructure after consumer goods giant Unilever pulled out of an agreement with Phytopharm to develop Hoodia extract as a functional food targeting weight loss late last year.