- Swiss drugmaker Roche has agreed to pay 380 million euros, or about $447 million, for Dublin and Cambridge, U.K.-based biotech startup Inflazome.
- The deal gives Roche rights to a portfolio of small molecule drugs that target inflammasomes, protein complexes within immune cells that are implicated in inflammation. Inflazome's drugs, specifically, block the NLRP3 inflammasome, which is involved in a wide variety of diseases, from Alzheimer's to diabetes and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
- The idea of drugging the NLRP3 inflammasome has drawn the interest of companies like Roche, Novartis and Bristol Myers Squibb because of its potentially broad role in the body. The Inflazome deal marks the second acquisition Roche has made specifically for NLRP3 blockers, following its 2018 buyout of Jecure Therapeutics.
Inflammasomes are key players in our bodies' initial response to foreign invaders, producing signals that can spur on an attack to fight off infections. But when triggered mistakenly, they can create problems.
One particular type of inflammasome, known as NLRP3, for instance, has become a hot target in drug research because it's improperly activated in a large number of diseases. NLRP3 activation is implicated in diabetes and atherosclerosis, for instance, along with debilitating neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and even gut-related conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.
That broad effect has led to "a substantial interest in the scientific community to discover the effective NLRP3 inflammasome inhibitors," researchers wrote in a paper published last year in the journal Frontiers of Immunology. Early work within pharmaceutical companies didn't bear fruit, but more recent research advances have led to a wave of venture investments, new startups and deals by larger pharma companies to acquire them.
IFM Therapeutics, for instance, has sold two subsidiaries to Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis that were each developing NLRP3-blocking drugs, among other medicines. The Bristol Myers deal was focused on their use in cancer, while Novartis was more interested in their potential to treat inflammatory diseases.
Roche got in the mix when it bought Jecure in 2018, at the time highlighting NLRP3's role in the liver disease non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
By then, Novartis had invested in Inflazome, which was formed in 2016 by two researchers, Luke O'Neill of Trinity College Dublin and Matt Cooper of the University of Queensland in Australia. The biotech has since raised some $65 million from Novartis' venture arm and others through two separate funding rounds.
Inflazome has developed a portfolio of oral, chemical-based NLRP3 blockers that are both "clinical and preclinical." In a statement on the Roche deal, Inflazome said its compounds would be developed for a "wide variety" of indications, but didn't provide specifics.
Several other privately held startups, among them NodThera, and Olatec Therapeutics, are developing NLRP3 inhibitors as well. And other companies, like Inflammasome Therapeutics, Ventus Therapeutics and Quench Bio, are using different strategies to impact inflammasomes.