UCB followed up its announcement of a $5.6 billion merger offer with Germany’s Schwarz Pharma yesterday with a comprehensive presentation of its R&D activities in London.The presentation, taking place throughout today, provides the Belgian firm with a timely opportunity to explain the rationale behind the merger to investors and showcase the pipeline projects it will bring to the combined company.Describing UCB’s pipeline as “our biggest asset for the future,” the company’s chief executive, Roch Doliveux, said current spending on R&D was at a level of 27% of sales – well above the industry average.While much of the attention of late has focussed on UCB’s Crohn’s disease drug candidate Cimzia (certolizumab pegol), which is under regulatory review, the company stressed the other elements of its pipeline at the R&D day. In particular, it pointed to rosy prospects for its epilepsy franchise, currently headed by fast-growing product Keppra (levetiracetam), which could be bolstered in 2008 by a new once-daily formulation, and in the longer-term by brivaracetam and seletracetam, two follow-up compounds which seem to offer greater potency and tolerability.However, on the downside UCB said it had been forced to halt a Phase III clinical trial of epratuzumab, an antibody in trials for the autoimmune disorder lupus erythematosus which the company licensed from Immunomedics in May, after quality control problems were uncovered at a plant making the drug.Phase II results with brivaracetam in epilepsy has shown that the drug is significantly more effective than placebo in patients with partial onset seizures whose symptoms were not controlled using current medications, including Keppra, although a Phase II trial in neuropathic pain failed to show a benefit.Meanwhile, Phase II results with seletracetam – which is around 100 times more potent than Keppra – found that the drug was able to improve seizure rates up to 40% when added to existing treatment with up to three concomitant anti-epileptic drugs.UCB is hoping to bring both these new agents to market before Keppra starts to lose patent protection in 2009, a major milestone for the company which is already facing patent expiry in the USA for hayfever drug Zyrtec (cetirizine), its top seller, in December 2007.UCB reported Keppra sales of 365 million euros in the first half of 2006, a rise of 42% that puts it in sight of surpassing antihistamine Zyrtec as the firm's top product.Updating on the progress of Cimzia, UCB reiterated that the drug could be approved fro Crohn’s disease in the first half of next year in Europe and the latter half of the year in the USA. After registration, the company intends to file for a new version of the drug using a patient-friendly self-injector device.Clinical development of Cimzia in rheumatoid arthritis continues apace, with Phase III results expected in early 2007.UCB early-stage pipeline

  • UCB 106607 depression Phase I (triple target antidepressant)

  • CDP 323 multiple sclerosis Phase I (Phase II starting Q107)
  • CDP791 lung cancer Phase II
  • CMC544 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma Phase I/II
Source: UCBre>