Amgen Inc., the world's largest biotechnology company, on Monday said it had acquired rights to an experimental diabetes drug from Swedish rival Biovitrum.
The deal expands Amgen's drug pipeline in a potentially large market. Adult-onset diabetes affects 20 million people in the United States and 160 million worldwide.
Amgen said it would make an upfront payment of $86.5 million to Biovitrum and significant additional payments if certain milestones were reached.
The Thousand Oaks-based biotech giant said it would fund development of Biovitrum's experimental medication BVT 3498. The deal gives Amgen marketing rights to the drug in most of the world outside Africa and Asia.
Amgen's shares rose 92 cents to close Monday at $68.20 on Nasdaq. Biovitrum is a private company that was previously part of Pharmacia.
Amgen has no drugs for diabetes but maintains a large research effort aimed at the illness and other metabolic diseases. Its best-known foray in the area is the company's unsuccessful development of the hormone leptin as an obesity drug. Amgen paid $20 million for rights to leptin in the mid-1990s.
Roger Perlmutter, head of research and development for Amgen, said its work on leptin produced valuable insights into the regulation of insulin, the hormone that converts glucose into energy and controls blood sugar.
Last year, Amgen scientists and academic collaborators successfully used leptin to treat diabetes in patients with leptin deficiency, a rare disorder.
"Those studies permitted us to gain insights into the phenomena of insulin resistance," Perlmutter said. Patients who are resistant to insulin have high levels of blood sugar, which leads to long-term damage of eyes, blood vessels and kidneys.
BVT 3498 is being studied to control insulin resistance in patients. If approved for sale, the oral drug would compete with such medications as Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Glucophage.
Another potential use of BVT 3498, Perlmutter said, is to reduce the risk of coronary disease in obese patients who are resistant to insulin.