Collaborations

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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