AstraZeneca taps Ethris in RNA deal
- German biotech Ethris has hooked up with the MedImmune division of the big pharma AstraZeneca in a five-year deal to develop RNA therapies for respiratory diseases.
- The deal, based around Ethris' SNIM RNA technology, gets Ethris €25 million ($29.4 million) in upfront payments, along with research funding, and the promise of future milestone payments and royalties.
- AstraZeneca's MedImmune will have the option to exclusive worldwide licenses for stabilized non-immunogenic modified RNA therapies for each target in the collaboration.
Drugs based around RNA have long been touted, but their potential hasn't been realized until relatively recently. The field is now growing, with AstraZeneca joining companies like Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, with a pipeline of programs in the clinic, and RaNA Therapeutics (now Translate Bio), which picked up a messenger RNA platform from Shire in January 2016.
"Rapid advances over the last decade have made mRNA a very promising tool for clinical application, and we are excited to collaborate with Ethris, whose advanced platform is leading in RNA delivery to the lung. This collaboration complements our respiratory science focused on early intervention and disease modification by adding novel ways to target disease mechanisms that cannot be addressed by other approaches currently in our pipeline," said Bahija Jallal, EVP of MedImmune.
The Ethris deal isn't AstraZeneca's first foray into investment in RNA – in August 2016 the big pharma sank $140 million into Moderna Therapeutics, following an initial agreement in 2013 and increasing its equity investment to 9%.
AstraZeneca has long been known for its focus on respiratory diseases, and income in this area made up almost a third of its total product sales in the first half of 2017. This was a 6% drop on the first half sales on the previous year, driven by falls in sales of older drugs Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol) and Tudorza/Eklira (aclidinium bromide). The company will need to push new respiratory drugs through to take up the slack, particularly since the failed Phase 3 STRATOS 1 trial for tralokinumab.
As stated over a year ago, AstraZeneca is focusing on R&D investment in its core areas. AstraZeneca has a number of late stage respiratory drugs in development, including benralizumab in Phase 3 for asthma, and PT010 in Phase 3 for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Bringing in discovery and early stage deals, like the Ethris deal and the Pieris deal, signed earlier in 2017 to develop inhaled drugs, and later stage deals such as the agreement with Sanofi over the Phase 2b antibody MED8897, will boost internal R&D further.
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