An appetite suppressant which is made from a rare cactus plant has won new backing from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
According to a report from FT.com, Pfizer is expected to announce that it is to increase its investment in a research project run by the UK group Phytopharm, the company which is developing the P57 obesity drug. Phytopharm has announced a fourfold increase in the production capacity of P57 at its factory in Pretoria, South Africa, fuelling speculation that Pfizer has agreed to step up its investment.
The two groups are said to be in discussions over the renewal of their three-year $12m (€13.6m) research and development co-operation and the rescheduling of their $32m milestone licensing agreement, both of which relate to the drug. They are expected to conclude within the next week or so, FT.com said.
The two groups have worked together on the P57 project since 1998, when Phytopharm licensed the rights to the drug to Pfizer in exchange for the funding and a royalty stream estimated to be worth about 10 per cent of sales.
P57 is based on extracts of the rare hoodia cactus, traditionally used by South African bushmen to fight off hunger during lengthy hunting trips. Results from initial trials of the drug showed that it produced a 30 per cent reduction in the calorific intake of obese men.
Buoyed by these promising results, Phytopharm has now increased capacity at the Pretoria plant to ensure year-round rolling harvesting of the 10 million cacti cultivated on its local plantations. However, it is likely to be several years before the obesity drug is finally approved for human use, the company said.