As­traZeneca com­mits $57.5M to seed An­ti­calin R&D pact with Pieris, a biotech on a roll

Stephen Yo­der

Boston-based Pieris Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has rolled out its sec­ond big-mon­ey col­lab­o­ra­tion in the last four months, this time reel­ing in Big Phar­ma play­er As­traZeneca, which wants to see just how ef­fec­tive the biotech’s pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing work can be in treat­ing res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­eases.

Pieris $PIRS has been work­ing for years on en­gi­neer­ing pro­teins that are lighter and more ver­sa­tile than an­ti­bod­ies, so that they can work where an­ti­bod­ies find their en­try barred.

So now Pieris is charged with tak­ing their lead res­pi­ra­to­ry drug — PRS-060, an An­ti­calin against in­ter­leukin-4 re­cep­tor al­pha — in­to a Phase I asth­ma tri­al. Once they do that, they can score $12.5 mil­lion to add to the $45 mil­lion up­front they are get­ting in the pact.

Af­ter that, there’s a load of biobucks on the ta­ble to­tal­ing $2.1 bil­lion for mile­stones plus roy­al­ties. Pieris has the right to grab co-de­vel­op­ment and co-com­mer­cial­iza­tion rights on the lead pro­gram af­ter Phase IIa, and then As­traZeneca has rights to de­vel­op four more of these res­pi­ra­to­ry An­ti­calins, with Pieris able to part­ner on two of these ther­a­pies.

In­vestors loved what they were see­ing this morn­ing, ig­nit­ing Pieris stock, which soared 52%.

This is an­oth­er key deal for Pieris, which struck a pact with Servi­er last Jan­u­ary worth $31.5 mil­lion up­front and $1.8 bil­lion in mile­stones for a next-gen, bis­pe­cif­ic PD-1 drug PRS-332 and four more im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­grams. Pieris ear­li­er struck a pact to work with Roche.

“While of course this adds cash run­way to bridge through yet ad­di­tion­al clin­i­cal in­flec­tion points, what we’re most ex­cit­ed about is that it will al­low us to more ag­gres­sive­ly fol­low clin­i­cal da­ta we hope to emerge from our IO pipeline, par­tic­u­lar­ly our 4-1BB bis­pe­cif­ic, PRS-343, while not hav­ing to in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ly di­lute our share­hold­ers,” Pieris CEO Steve Yo­der told me in an email. “And the fact that we’re able to have done this with­out part­ing with any rights to PRS-343 all while re­tain­ing co-dev and com­mer­cial rights for our lead res­pi­ra­to­ry as­set, PRS-060, is par­tic­u­lar­ly ex­cit­ing.”

As­traZeneca clear­ly has to be en­thused about this one. The phar­ma gi­ant has been de­vot­ing re­sources for its on­col­o­gy pipeline, re­cent­ly win­ning an ap­proval for its check­point dur­val­um­ab and keep­ing its fin­gers crossed that a com­bo of dur­val­um­ab and treme­li­mum­ab works in front­line lung can­cer.

The big idea here is that the An­ti­calins that Pieris is work­ing on can hit two key cy­tokines — IL-4 and IL-13 — in­volved in asth­ma. And by pen­e­trat­ing in­to the lungs, they be­lieve they can do it with a lighter, safer, more tol­er­a­ble dose.

Out­side of on­col­o­gy, the phar­ma gi­ant has been out­li­cens­ing more than it’s been in-li­cens­ing, gen­er­at­ing rev­enue out of less com­pelling as­sets as it seeks a fun­da­men­tal turn­around af­ter see­ing gener­ics dec­i­mate its biggest fran­chis­es.

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The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

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She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

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TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

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Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Astel­las, Pan­th­er­na add or­gan to mR­NA tie-up; Rock­et launch­es sale of six fig­ures worth of stock

Astellas and Pantherna have expanded their November 2021 pact surrounding the latter’s mRNA platform to include a new target organ, the duo announced Tuesday morning, though they did not specify what that target is.

German biotech Pantherna is home to two platform technologies — one that designs mRNAs for non-vaccine therapies and another that designs LNPs. Astellas and Pantherna’s deal appears to mainly revolve around the first platform, which Astellas said it is using to research direct reprogramming, or turning cells from one kind into another without an intermediate stem cell phase.

Andrew Crockett, KalVista CEO

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KalVista took a beating Tuesday after announcing it would scrap a Phase II trial for one of its experimental drugs.

The biotech said in an early morning press release that it is terminating the study for KVD824 after multiple patients in every treatment group saw unsafe, elevated levels of certain liver enzymes. By ending the trial now, KalVista hopes to save some money and funnel it toward another study for its lead program, CEO Andrew Crockett said in a statement.