Helsinn gives up on Zealand’s GI candidate elsiglutide after trial flop

Swiss flag by a lake

Swiss biopharma Helsinn will stop working on Zealand’s troubled cancer side effects medication elsiglutide after a major study failure last year.

Denmark-based Zealand out-licensed its candidate, a GLP-2 peptide analogue, to Helsinn back in 2008, but 9 years down the line, a serious setback and a pipeline evolution has seen these rights thrust back into the hands of its creator.

The drug has been in development for chemotherapy-induced diarrhea, but last May missed the primary endpoint for reducing diarrhea in colon cancer patients in a mid-to-late-stage test. This came just 2 months after Zealand announced that another drug, danegaptide, also missed the primary endpoint in a phase 2 cardiac reperfusion injury trial.

The failure of that study, which was viewed as a long shot by some analysts, led to Zealand focusing its resources on other areas of its pipeline.

GLP-2 has previously been tested in short bowel syndrome and intestinal failure, but the companies had been hoping it may also be effective for side effects of cancer drugs.

Under the deal, Zealand was in line for biobucks if the med were ever approved, but: “As of today, the license agreement will no longer be active,” the biotech said in a brief update.

The drug’s future for this indication now hangs in the balance, with no firm commitment either way: “Zealand will communicate the potential further development of elsiglutide at a later stage, following a thorough evaluation,” the company adds.

Britt Meelby Jensen, president and CEO of Zealand, said: “We remain confident that GLP-2 analogues have the potential to meet a significant unmet need for patients suffering from chemotherapy-induced diarrhea and other gastrointestinal diseases. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Helsinn for the good collaboration on this project.”

Riccardo Braglia, Helsinn Group’s VC and CEO added: “Following recent acquisitions that have augmented Helsinn's pipeline of products and the strategic decision to move beyond solely cancer supportive care and into cancer therapeutics, Helsinn has decided to return elsiglutide to Zealand. We have enjoyed collaborating with Zealand and wish them well going forward.”