(19th Jan 2006) MerLion Pharmaceuticals Pte Ltd Announces Drug Discovery Collaboration with Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases.

19th January 2006 - MerLion Pharmaceuticals Pte Ltd (MerLion), the Singapore-based natural products drug discovery company, announces a collaboration with Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD, Singapore). The collaborative research will focus initially on identifying compounds for the treatment of Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral infection. The agreement also contains options for the development and commercialisation of discoveries in other therapeutic areas.

"We are very pleased to be working with the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases" said Dr Tony Buss, CEO of MerLion. "Novartis has a strong tradition of developing natural product based medicines and consistently demonstrate excellence in this field.”

“Dengue fever is a widespread disease and has no known drug treatment. Naturally derived compounds offer an important opportunity to discover therapies for this infection, which affects 50 million people per year, with two-fifths of the world’s population at risk of the disease.”

Within the collaboration MerLion will screen their natural compound collection against high throughput screens developed at NITD to identify new therapeutic compounds against a specific molecular target of dengue fever. NITD has recently published some of its detailed work in profiling such molecular targets+.

As part of the agreement, NITD may license in potential drug candidates from MerLion, developing them as part of a portfolio of treatments for neglected tropical diseases endemic in developing countries.

NITD or its designee, which include Novartis affiliates, have the option to licence compounds identified within the collaboration for alternative therapeutic areas and markets. Should such an option be exercised, MerLion will receive an undisclosed amount in licensing fees and milestones

Singapore has suffered its worst outbreak of dengue fever in 2005, with over 13,000 cases reported: double those of 2004, which was in itself a record year for new cases. Although environmental steps are important in controlling mosquito populations new drug therapies are vital in the control of the condition and for the reduction in mortality from dengue haemorrhagic fever. Dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), a potentially lethal complication, was first recognized in the 1950s during the dengue epidemics in the Philippines and Thailand, but today DHF affects many other Asian countries and has become a leading cause of hospitalisation and death among children in several of them*.

+(J Biol Chem. 2005 Jun 1).

For further information:

MerLion Pharmaceuticals
Chris Molloy, Business Development Manager
+65 6829 5606

Notes for editors:
MerLion Pharmaceuticals

MerLion Pharmaceuticals Pte Ltd is a privately-held Singapore based pharmaceutical company, focusing on the discovery and development of new drug candidates from natural sources. MerLion Pharma collaborates with leading pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies and research institutes to identify and develop new drug candidates for a wide range of molecular targets.

MerLion Pharma has a strong pipeline of pre-clinical candidates displaying novel chemistry and modes of action. It plans to accelerate development of these compounds towards the clinic whilst maintaining a productive discovery engine, supplying new leads and candidates via collaboration and independently. MerLion Pharma is staffed by over 65 employees and occupies 28,000 square feet of laboratory and office space in the Singapore Science Park. Further information about MerLion Pharmaceuticals can be found at www.merlionpharma.com.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne infection which in recent years has become a major international public health concern. Dengue is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, predominantly in urban and semi-urban areas. The first global pandemic of dengue began in Southeast Asia after WWII. But over the past few decades, the mosquito-borne virus has spread dramatically and now infects about 50 million people each year, killing at least 12,000. Dengue is now endemic in more than 100 countries in Africa, the Americas, South-east Asia and the Western Pacific. The most seriously affected areas are Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. Presently, there is no known cure or vaccine for this disease.

Dengue fever is an acute viral illness characterised by sudden onset of fever for 2-7 days, severe headache, muscle ache, joint pain, pain behind the eyeball, abdominal discomfort and rash. Dengue infection may also present in the more severe and potentially fatal form, with severe bleeding and shock, known as dengue hemorrhagic fever/dengue shock syndrome. It is caused by four types of dengue virus – dengue-1, -2, -3, and -4. Dengue infection is transmitted from an infected person to a susceptible individual through the bite of infected mosquitoes, principally Aedes aegypti. Recovery from infection by one dengue serotype provides lifelong immunity against that serotype, but confers only partial and transient protection against subsequent infection by the other three serotypes. This means that a person can acquire the dengue fever more than once. There is good evidence that sequential infection increases the risk of more serious disease resulting in DHF.

* Source: World Health Organisation (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs117/en/)