Small and medium-sized biotechnology companies in Sweden have a total of 110 projects in late preclinical or clinical trials, a new analysis has found. Only 11 of those projects, though, are in the final phase of clinical development.

The pipeline survey of 77 small and medium-sized biotechs (72 of which responded) was conducted by the Swedish biotechnology industry association, SwedenBIO, the Invest in Sweden Agency (ISA) and the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA), with the aim of promoting investment opportunities in the national industry.

Last October, the ISA reported a swell of interest from foreign companies and investors in Sweden’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. Markers of the industries’ renewed vigour included the acquisition of biopharmaceutical company Carlsson Research by Denmark’s NeuroSearch in August 2006 and the SKr670-million (€72.7 million) initial public offering by biotechnology company Biovitrum in September.

'Fantastic growth'

Biovitrum itself says it has “never had such a broad and exciting pipeline as it has today,” with eight projects in clinical trials and three more expected to enter clinical development this year. The company plans to develop and take its specialist medicines all the way to market, while it will seek partnerships with larger pharmaceutical companies for its primary care products. “We see fantastic growth potential in our project portfolio,” commented Biovitrum’s chief executive officer Mats Pettersson.

The Swedish pipeline survey identified 169 projects overall in late preclinical or clinical trials. However, 59 of these stem from the local research and development laboratories of the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca. Of the AZ compounds, 33 are in preclinical studies, 13 in Phase I, 10 in Phase II and three in Phase III.

Among the remaining biotech projects in development, 45 are in late preclinical trials (defined as less than 12 months away from clinical development), 22 in Phase I, 32 in Phase II and 11 in Phase III.

Small and medium-sized biotech companies in Sweden have 21 more projects in development than a year ago. SwedenBIO attributes this increase to more companies being included in this year’s survey (69 were contacted in 2006) and to participants in last year’s analysis either moving products up the development ladder or acquiring them from other companies.

Oncology leads the pack

Among the non-AZ projects, the dominant therapeutic category is oncology, with 19 projects in development for cancer or related conditions, followed by 13 for metabolic disorders, 10 for central nervous system disorders and nine for HIV/AIDS. The main focus is still on small molecules, which account for 61% of biotech projects under development by small and medium-sized companies, although large molecules – those developed and manufactured using biological systems – are gaining ground from previous years.

Many of the projects – 49 (44%) in total – do not yet have a development/marketing partner. Of the 32% of projects already partnered, 30% are with big pharma and 2% with smaller companies. In 24% of cases the respondents did not disclose whether their projects were partnered or not. Of the 32 partnered projects, 12 are at the preclinical stage and 22 are in Phases I to III. Four of the projects currently in Phase III development do not have a partner.

Most of the biotechnology projects under development by small and medium-sized companies in Sweden came from internal research or collaborations with academia. In all, 38% of the projects were the result of internal research, 25% originated from collaborations with academia, 14% from a mixture of internal research and academic collaborations, and 23% from other companies.