- Small Boston-based Pieris Pharmaceuticals is joining forces with AstraZeneca to speed development of its protein platform for application in respiratory diseases, announcing Wednesday a broad collaboration with the British pharma.
- AstraZeneca will pay Pieris $45 million upfront, along with another $12.5 million payment when Pieris' lead preclinical candidate enters Phase 1 testing later this year. The deal, which covers four additional undisclosed programs, lines up a long string of milestones worth as much as $2.1 billion if all five products are successfully developed and commercialized.
- Respiratory diseases remain a key focus for AstraZeneca, even as it has out-licensed and sold off aging or otherwise non-core assets over the past several quarters.
Pieris' partnership with AstraZeneca is the biotech's second major collaboration signed this year, following a January deal with the French pharma Servier to develop bi-specific therapeutics in immuno-oncology.
Both alliances aim to tap Pieris' "Anticalin" platform technology, which engineers proteins to mimic the targeting and binding capabilities of antibodies, but in a smaller package.
In respiratory diseases, that smaller size could enable direct delivery into the lung — sidestepping some of the challenges that can crop up with systemically administered antibodies. Local delivery could also lower the dose needed for effective treatment.
Pieris will first test a nebulized delivery vehicle, but ultimately plans to develop the technology into a dry powder formulation. Working with AstraZeneva will de-risk that transition and accelerate time to market with a commercial device, Pieris CEO Stephen Yoder said Wednesday on a call with analysts.
Pieris lead candidate, known as PRS-060, targets IL-4Ra for treatment of moderate to severe asthma, an area of strength for AstraZeneca. The British pharma will fund all clinical development and any future marketing, although Pieris has the option to co-develop and commercialize in the U.S. from Phase 2a on.
Of the four additional targets, Pieris can opt into co-development and commercialization of two programs in the U.S.
While the upfront cash payments in both the AstraZeneca and Servier deal are relatively small, the amounts are significant for a preclinical pipeline. And both collaborations come with a hefty string of "biobucks" attached: $2.1 billion with AstraZeneca and $1.1 billion with Servier if all programs covered by the two deals make it to market.
For AstraZeneca, the deal adds another inhaled formulation technology to its respiratory portfolio, which is a key therapeutic spaces for the drugmaker alongside oncology and cardiovascular disease.
Flagging sales of the flagship drug Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol) in the U.S. have weighed on the respiratory portfolio's growth. AstraZeneca hopes drugs like Bevespi (glycopyrrolate/formoterol fumarate) and biologics in development can bring an uptick in revenue.
Finding new growth is crucial for AstraZeneca, which has been battered by patent expiries for key products like Crestor (rosuvastatin) and Nexium (esomeprazole). The big pharma has been selling off non-core assets left and right to help prop up revenues while new drugs emerge from development.