GSK teams with Vanderbilt to rev up trials on new obesity drugs

GlaxoSmithKline has joined up with investigators at Vanderbilt University to quick march their preclinical work on a new obesity drug into clinical studies.

The pharma giant ($GSK) has been warming up to Roger Cone and his Vanderbilt team. With significant backing from the NIH, they have identified a series of positive allosteric modulators, or PAMs, that "gently increase" the activity of the melanocortin-4 receptor, a target now in the sights of several developers.

Under the deal, the university team will stay focused on the preclinical work while GSK investigators narrow down the compounds, with an eye to launching a Phase I study in 2016.

"It's a very aggressive timeline," said Cone in a statement. The chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics discovered MC4-R and demonstrated its potential for treating obesity in the 1990s.

Obesity is a big, difficult target for drug developers. Two new drugs were recently approved after a 10-year drought but there are a host of companies which feel that they can do much better at reducing the epidemic of obesity around the world. Just last fall the troubled R&D team at AstraZeneca ($AZN) scuttled their partnership with Palatin on AZD2820, a peptide melanocortin-4 receptor partial agonist. And Third Rock has been backing Rhythm, which has RM-493, another small-peptide melanocortin 4 receptor agonist for obesity and diabetes.

- here's the press release

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