Can a promising new way of treating common immune diseases like psoriasis also work for disorders of the brain and nervous system?
Biohaven, a biotechnology company rebooted after a 2022 sale to Pfizer, aims to find out, announcing Wednesday a deal to license a so-called TYK2 inhibitor from Chinese drugmaker Hangzhou Highlightll Pharmaceutical.
As their moniker implies, TYK2 inhibitors block a protein of the same name that’s proven to be an important node in inflammatory signaling between cells. One TYK2 inhibitor, Bristol Myers Squibb’s Sotyktu, has won U.S. approval for moderate-to-severe psoriasis and half a dozen other companies are lining up behind it with TYK2-targeting compounds of their own.
It’s quickly becoming a high-stakes development race, leading Takeda to pay one of those companies, Nimbus Therapeutics, $4 billion late last year to acquire the biotech’s highly regarded TYK2 blocker. Recently presented data suggest it could be even more potent than Sotyktu in treating psoriasis.
Biohaven plans to go in another direction, describing in its Wednesday announcement how inhibiting TYK2 could be helpful against very different kinds of diseases.
“We have gained tremendous insight into the role of the immune system and critical inflammatory signaling pathways with events that drive the onset, propagation and relentless progression of neurodegenerative diseases,” Biohaven CEO Vlad Coric said in the statement.
Highlightll’s TYK2 inhibitor, now dubbed BHV-8000, is “brain-penetrant,” meaning it can cross the blood-brain barrier to tamp down on TYK2 proteins in areas more directly affected by neurological disorders.
Biohaven plans to advance BHV-800 into a Phase 1 clinical this year. While it did not detail what diseases it aims to target, its statement notes how dysregulation of the immune system is associated with conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, ALS and autoimmune encephalitis.
“I think an understudied area of neuroscience has been immunology,” Coric said in an interview at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this January. “Much like [immuno-oncology] changed oncology, I think immune modulators can change neuroscience.”
Coric’s company looks much different than it did a year ago, before Pfizer paid $11.6 billion to acquire Biohaven’s slate of migraine medicines, including two that are now approved in the U.S. But the pharmaceutical giant wasn’t interested in some of Biohaven’s early-stage programs and agreed to spin them off into a new company under the same name, stock ticker and CEO.
New Biohaven remains focused on neurological diseases and has a pipeline of drugs being tested for epilepsy, obsessive compulsive disorder, spinocerebellar ataxia and spinal muscular atrophy. Its lineup grows one drug longer with Highlightll’s TYK2 inhibitor, for which the company is paying $10 million in cash and $10 million in Biohaven equity.
Should development succeed, Highlightll could receive additional milestone payments of up to $950 million.
The China-based drugmaker was founded by Chris Liang, who helped invent two cancer drugs at the biotech companies Sugen and Xcovery.
"Biohaven's proven track record in successfully innovating, developing, and commercializing neuroscience therapies makes them an attractive partner to help maximize the potential of BHV-8000,” said Liang, in Biohaven’s statement.
Ben Fidler contributed reporting