Taipei, May 15 (CNA) National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) has signed a deal to provide technology related to a potential new osteoporosis drug to pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk A/S for a payment of US$13.3 million if the project is successfully completed.
The amount was the highest ever for the transfer of technology developed by a Taiwanese academic institution, the university said.
The signing ceremony, held in Taipei, was attended by Education Minister Chiang Wei-ning, NCKU President Hwung Hwung-hweng, the head of the research team, professor Chang Ming-shi, and representatives from the Danish company.
Novo Nordisk said the new drug is now entering the latter part of phase two clinical trials, and phase three trials, involving more widespread testing on humans, will begin in two or three years.
"If all goes well, chances are good that it will hit the market in five or six years at the earliest," a company representative said.
The university said the new drug, if passes clinical trials, could dramatically improve the treatment of osteoporosis and reduce side effects.
The new drug is based on the research team's discovery last year that a protein secreted by the immune system, called interleukin-20 (IL-20), can trigger osteoporosis if it overproduced.
The team found that IL-20 stimulated the formation of bone cells called "osteoclasts," which promote a decrease in bone mass.
In tests on mice showing symptoms of osteoporosis, the team found that giving the mice IL-20 antibodies protected the animals from osteoporosis and increased their bone density.
The study was the first time a link between IL-20 and osteoporosis had been explored, and it drew a lot of attention in academia and the biotechnology industry when it was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine last September.
Should the drug prove effective, it would have a lucrative market. An estimated US$8 billion per year is spent on medication to treat osteoporosis around the world, and the amount is expected to rise to US$8.8 billion by 2015.
Education Minister Chiang hailed the technology transfer, noting that it is rare for Taiwan to develop new drugs and saying it represented a major stride forward for research programs at Taiwan's major universities.
(By Hsu Chi-wei and Lilian Wu)