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Professor Gunilla Olivecrona and CEO Stefan K Nilsson, Lipigon Pharmaceuticals

Behind the deal: Lipigon and AstraZeneca – past, present and future

Behind the deal: Lipigon and AstraZeneca – past, present and future

Lipigon will collaborate with AstraZeneca, to develop small molecules targeting lipoprotein lipase (LPL) for treatment of cardiovascular diseases. If everything turns out well Lipigon is eligible to receive up to 110 million USD in development and sales milestone payments.

Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD) is the number one cause of death globally and virtually all Big Pharma companies are working hard to find entries for new therapeutics in the area. How and why has a small company like Lipigon been successful?
 “Lipigon benefits from more than 45 years of target experience. World-leading science by Professor Gunilla Olivecrona´s team at Umeå University is our foundation and the combination of entrepreneurial drive, a well-developed innovation system and business development skills have allowed us to accelerate. Both sides of the coin are needed to be a successful university spinoff”

You have focused on the enzyme Lipoprotein lipase (LPL), what makes it interesting?
“LPL meets the most important criteria for a good drug target; genetic, clinical and experimental validation, it all pin-points LPL at the center of Cardiovascular Diseases. Though an old literature target, LPL has been notoriously difficult to address with direct pharmacological means. We have unique proprietary knowledge to find small molecules activating LPL thus this was a natural first target for us to work with.”

What does the research collaboration with AstraZeneca mean for Lipigon in shorter and longer perspective?
“We will of course be very busy fulfilling our part of the deal. The collaboration puts us and LPL as a target on the pharma map. We are in the process of going from a virtual company to a company with our own physical labs. We will use this collaboration as leverage for further expansion of Lipigon for building a value creating company with a sustainable pipeline of products and product candidates.”

What is the plan, will the deal bring new jobs to the Umeå region?
“Definitely! We will initially have about 4 full-time employees working in Lipigon. If everything goes as we plan, there will be additional positions in a near future.”

Lipigon has the LPL know-how and a unique screening platform. What will AstraZeneca contribute with?
“AstraZeneca are drug development experts. We will focus on LPL specific issues whereas AZ will focus on e.g. chemistry and drug metabolism (DMPK). This will, of course, be an iterative process where we will work closely together as one team.”

Reaching all the way to the market with a new drug is long-time development process. What key lessons you have learned?
” For a new project it is essential to focus on patients need; will the new drug actually make a difference on the market and for the patient? It is also crucial to map out the regulatory pathway all the way to the market and, as I mentioned previously a thoroughly validated target with strong preclinical data makes an early project attractive”.

With Lipigon´s deal but also other successful international "Umeå deals" in mind, is there something special in the entrepreneurial climate in the region, when it comes to life sciences?
“The entrepreneurial climate is decent, but there are structural difficulties at large to tackle. Life sciences is tricky since it often requires vast scientific knowledge which is not always accompanied with a business mind set. The Swedish academic system graduates PhDs, not entrepreneurs. However, having said that, Lipigon is the first to acknowledge the local innovation system. CEO and co-founder Stefan K Nilsson was a grad student when he received his first financial support from the local business support structure. This has been one of the keys to Lipigon’s success so far.”

Many thanks and best wishes for a prosperous future!

Contact: goran.lidgren[at]uminovainnovation.se