Astellas subsidiary to partner with Pittsburgh upstart in search for 'undruggable' proteins
As Astellas continues its drive to build out its gene therapy portfolio and capabilities, a subsidiary of the Japanese pharma company has entered into a collaboration with a little-known Pittsburgh biotech.
Astellas-owned Mitobridge and Generian Pharmaceuticals announced on Wednesday that they will work together in a new deal for “undruggable” protein targets. Generian will net an undisclosed upfront payment and could get up to $180 million in milestones, should anything from its platform prove successful, as well as single-digit royalties on global net sales.
“I think [Mitobridge] recognized early on that our platform that we were working with is pretty powerful,” Generian CEO Hank Safferstein told Endpoints News. “The meat of the relationship obviously is going to be going forward as we work on a number of different targets with Astellas and, hopefully, develop the kind of collaborative relationship that takes advantage of their strong suit and their capabilities as well as ours.”
The agreement will have the companies work together to identify and develop small molecule drugs. Astellas will be responsible for the clinical development, manufacturing and commercialization of the end product.
While specific disease targets have not been set in the deal, Generian CSO Toren Finkel, who primarily focuses on mitochondrial function and its role in metabolism and aging, sees a natural overlap between the two companies.
“I think there’s been a natural scientific synergy between Mitobridge’s sort of focus on mitochondrial medicine and sort of our interest in the role of mitochondria and quality control and aging biology,” Finkel said.
However, Finkel emphasized that while the collaboration is casting a very broad net, there will be several disease focuses for the collaboration.
“We’re going after some really tough drug targets. They play key roles in cellular biology, so the implications could be across multiple diseases at this point,” Safferstien said. “I think it’s really just a focus on trying to modulate levels of target proteins in areas where we think they could have a big impact on certain diseases.”
Safferstein added that the programs involved in the partnership are currently in the discovery phase, moving toward the clinic in three to four years depending on the speed and success of the work.
As for what separates Generian from the rest of the pack, Finkel said its platform has enabled the company to identify small molecules that bind with high affinity to targets that are not thought to be druggable. Safferstein believes working on actionable molecules will help Generian stand out in a “very noisy space” right now.
“There are companies coming out of stealth and there’s all this AI being wrapped around drug discovery, and it’s hard to sort of tell exactly what’s going on in some of these companies,” Safferstein said. “We have a very clear and straight line of sight from this prospective approach to screening these targets, and the science is easy to understand. We’re not doing anything in that in the ether land, and we’re really working on real molecules, focusing on real targets and I think sometimes it’s hard to get above the noise.”
Mitobridge was brought into Astellas’ fold in 2017 with a $390 million deal. Generian was formed by UPMC Enterprises, is the venture capital arm of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.