- AstraZeneca has inked a research collaboration with microbiome specialist Seres Therapeutics to explore whether the composition of bacteria in the gut could help predict how cancer patients respond to immunotherapy.
- The British pharma will pay $20 million to Seres in three installments over two years, and will reimburse Seres for research costs. Seres will retain rights to oncology-targeted microbiome therapeutic candidates, while AstraZeneca secures an option to negotiate for rights over these and other programs.
- Last month, Seres cut 30% of its workforce in a restructuring aimed at channeling resources toward the biotech's clinical-stage therapeutic candidates, including one in metastatic melanoma. As part of the new deal with AstraZeneca, the companies may also study Seres' SER-401 in combination with AstraZeneca drugs.
Markets reacted positively to the deal, with shares in Seres closing up nearly 25% Monday. However, the closing price per share of $6.38 is still well below the company's peak in mid-2016, when a Phase 2 trial failure sent Seres' stock tumbling by 70%.
Live microbiome therapeutics have faced a number of challenges since then, spurring some companies to pull out of the space. But others, included Seres, have persevered and development of microbiome therapeutic candidates has advanced.
As therapies have moved through development, though, new questions have emerged, including questions of how the treatments should be regulated — an issue highlighted by a recent report from The New York Times.
Seres' lead therapeutic, SER-109, is an oral capsule containing donated fecal bacterial spores.
Treating such therapies as a drug, the companies argue, will ensure that they are safe and effective, and that outcomes are reproducible. Physicians and patient groups cited by The New York Times, however, raised concerns on how regulating microbiome therapies as drugs would affect patient access.