The battle against global diseases is about to get much healthier.
Achillion, a recent addition to the city’s biotech industry, is in the early stages of testing an anti-viral agent that would help combat HIV and Hepatitis B with less toxic side effects than current drugs. These tests come less than a year after the project began, much earlier than anticipated.
The drug, currently named ACH-126,443, is in the first stage of human testing in Scotland. The orally administered pill is being tested on healthy humans to determine the drug’s safety and possible side effects. The tests are being done outside of the United States because of Food and Drug Administration restrictions on testing, while the project is being managed from Achillion’s headquarters at the new George Street Technology Center. A Yale School of Medicine professor developed the compound on which the drug is based.
“It is designed to be extremely potent against Hepatitis B and HIV, but also to alleviate long term toxicity,” said Dr. Lisa Drunkle, Achillion vice president of drug development and head of the project. “It is a potent and tolerable agent for people who need to be treated for a long time.”
Current drugs being used in anti-viral therapy such as AZT contain toxins that can be harmful to patients in the long run.
Work on the drug began in laboratories of the pharmacology professor Yung-Chi Cheng. Achillion licensed the compound from Yale soon after the firm opened in February 2000 and has been working on developing for the drug for the past year, using cutting-edge zinc-finger technology.
The drug’s primary goal is the treatment of Hepatitis B. The disease is the most common cause of liver cancer worldwide but is relatively unknown in the United States because of universal immunization. If the drug is effective in combatting Hepatitis B, Achillion will further modify it to treat patients infected with HIV.
The tests on healthy patients will continue for around two months. The next stage will be to test the drug on patients affected with the disease.
“We’re very excited to have accomplished this milestone in such a short period of time,” Drunkle said. “It’s very unusual, even for a well established company, to take a product from the laboratory to human trials in less than a year.”
The acceleration of development is contingent upon FDA approval, and Achillion is hesitant to set a timetable for when the final product will be available.
“In biotech, they don’t put a time frame on things, because there is always something that can happen,” Achillion spokesperson Nora Michaud said.
Still, Drunkle estimated the drug will be on the market in three years, if not sooner.