Strong basis for long-term value growth:World-leading peptide competences and focused drug innovation

Peptide-based therapeutics represent a large field of novel and untapped opportunities in several disease areas.

Based on leading and validated peptide design and development competences and a patient-focused approach to drug innovation, Zealand stands in a strong position to explore and benefit long-term from these opportunities.   

Interview with Dr. Torsten Hoffmann:

Q

You have more than 20 years’ experience, including high ranking managerial and global network positions, from academia and big pharma – what attracted you to Zealand?

A

Zealand is unique in many ways: We have our first invented medicine, Lyxumia®, on the market and six other novel peptide therapeutics are in clinical development – a significant achievement for an organization of our size with limited operational spend. We have a talented and dedicated team of scientists with leading expertise in peptide drug R&D, and we believe in “small is beautiful”. Zealand’s agile organizational set-up is in my view optimal to support a dynamic and constructive feedback loop between preclinical and clinical development – a key driver in moving successfully from therapeutic target selection all the way to clinical Proof-of-Concept. 

Q

How do you see the future potential for peptide based medicines – and what role do you expect Zealand to play?

A

Peptide medicines have become a widely recognized therapeutic class, and going forward, I see the application of peptides moving far beyond what we currently know. New attractive routes to explore include novel molecular designs that will lead to medicines with superior therapeutic attributes such as extended pharmacological action, improved pharmacokinetic profiles as well as enhanced cell- and tissue-specific targeting properties. 

Zealand is a pioneer in peptide drug design and development, and our leading position sets a solid foundation for our future scientific endeavors. One example of novel approaches, we are currently exploring at Zealand, are peptide conjugates. 

Another way to leverage Zealand’s competences is to extend our therapeutic focus beyond the cardio-metabolic field; e.g. into inflammation, where we believe peptide based therapies have significant untapped potential.

Q

You have a dedicated focus on innovation as a key driver in building long-term pipeline value – what initiatives have you taken to boost innovation at Zealand?

A

I am impressed by our researchers at Zealand – by their skills, innovation and drive. To further motivate the entire R&D organization, I have established an entrepreneurial governance structure to seed and fund the best ideas in a non-bureaucratic manner. The intension is to relieve the idea generators from milestone pressure in the early project phase.

Q

How do you see Zealand’s product pipeline and R&D activities developing over the coming years?

A

We intend to grow our pipeline from both internal R&D and external sources to leverage our competences and increase the value of Zealand. We will continue to build on partnerships for a risk-balanced approach to advancing our products towards the market – yet, as we start to see accelerating revenues from the sales of Lyxumia® and potentially the Lantus®/Lyxumia® single product combination, we will extend investments into the proprietary part of our pipeline.

For our internally sourced programs, we accelerate those therapeutic peptides towards clinical development which we believe represent the most important potential improvements to patients’ lives. In addition, we are always scouting the external landscape of innovative technologies and molecules to further grow our R&D platform and clinical pipeline.

I have no doubts that we have both the internal competences and the necessary resources to grow Zealand into becoming one of the leading innovators of novel peptide therapeutics in the pharmaceutical industry sector. I am excited to be part of the Zealand team at this important time.

Core competences in peptide drug innovation and development

Peptide experts

At Zealand, we understand how peptides work. This enables us to provide novel peptide therapies and solutions to improve patients’ lives. 

We are deeply knowledgeable about peptide drug discovery and development, and have built a world-leading position in the field. We have an experienced and integrated R&D organization, broadly recognized for its capabilities, and with all main functions in-house, including:Identification of novel biological targets and testing of their therapeutic relevance (idea generation);

  • Identification of novel biological targets and testing of their therapeutic relevance (idea generation);
  • Innovation, design, modification and optimization of peptides;
  • Solutions to the challenges of turning peptides into durable, stable and cost-effective drugs;
  • Preclinical and clinical development of novel drugs targeting diabetes/metabolic diseases and related disorders.

What are peptides?

Peptides are naturally occurring biological molecules. They are found in all living organisms and play an active key role in many complex biological systems. Like proteins, peptides are built of amino acids and are formed (synthesized) naturally from transcription of a sequence of the generic code, DNA. 
 
For a peptide to exert its effect it usually binds to a receptor specific for that peptide which is located in the membrane of relevant cells and organs. Many receptors penetrate the cell membrane and consists of an extracellular domain where the peptide binds, and an intracellular domain through which the peptide exerts its function upon binding and activation of the receptor. An example is the glucagon receptor which is located on the liver and on adipose tissue. Upon activation of the liver receptors by natural glucagon, or a peptide analog (a synthesized molecule mimicking the effect of natural glucagon), the release of glucose into the blood stream is activated through a series of biological processes which may prevent inadequate low blood sugar levels i.e. hypo-glycemia as it is sometimes observed in insulin treated patents with Type 2 diabetes. Peptides as drugs

Compared with small chemical entity drugs, peptide based drugs possess certain favorable characteristics, including:

  • Higher potency; peptide based drugs generally are very active on their target receptor, which translates into a high effect at a low dose; 
  • Higher selectivity; peptides have a very tight fit to their receptors, which makes them much more selective than smaller molecules. This means that peptides tend to bind only to their target receptor and therefore are less likely to be associated with serious adverse side effects; 
  • Naturally occurring biologics – better safety: peptides are naturally degraded in the blood stream by circulating enzymes to their component amino acids.