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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Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

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