Eli Lilly will partner with Japanese drugmaker Sosei Heptares to develop drugs for diabetes and metabolic diseases that target an important family of proteins.
The deal, announced Friday, will use Sosei’s drug discovery technology to develop drugs that can act on G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, a diverse family of proteins found in cell membranes that control a variety of essential functions.
Under the deal, Sosei gets $37 million upfront and is eligible to receive up to $694 million if certain development and commercial milestones are reached. The partnership will use Sosei’s StaR technology and structure-based design platform to develop small molecule drug candidates against GPCR targets nominated by Lilly.
The partnership broadens Lilly’s already considerable pipeline of drugs for metabolic diseases, an area in which it has mapped out a major challenge to rival Novo Nordisk. Lilly’s injectable glucose-lowering drug Mounjaro, approved earlier this year, will challenge Novo’s Ozempic on the market. And if regulators give a nod as Lilly expects in 2023, next up for Mounjaro is use as a weight management drug, competing against Novo’s Wegovy and Saxenda.
Lilly is also advancing an oral drug for controlling glucose blood levels into Phase 3 studies that would take on Novo’s Rybelsus.
“Continued innovation across diabetes and metabolic diseases has been a key priority for Lilly for many years,” Ruth Gimeno, Lilly’s vice president of diabetes and metabolic research, said in a statement.
Because of their key role in cellular function, GPCRs are the target of around a third of all drugs approved in the U.S., some estimates hold, even though they have been difficult to isolate.
Despite that challenge, their potential has drawn renewed attention from drugmakers in recent years.
AbbVie signed a similar partnership with Sosei in August, paying $40 million upfront, to develop new treatments for neurological disorders.
Johnson & Johnson this past weekend presented positive study results for an experimental multiple myeloma treatment that works by targeting a GPCR and a protein expressed on immune cells.
Biotechnology company Septerna, meanwhile, launched early this year backed by $100 million in venture capital funding to develop new tools to purify and study GPCRs.