Boehringer Ingelheim is jumping onto the CD47 “don’t-eat-me” pathway.
The German company is paying $37 million in cash and near-term milestones to grab rights to one of the prime targets in the interplay between CD47 and SIRP-alpha. By targeting SIRP-alpha and preventing CD47 from binding to it, investigators at Boehringer believe that they can defuse a key immunosuppressant and allow macrophages to go on a cancer cell rampage.
They’re also not at all alone. CD47 itself has become a target for a wide variety of biotechs, including Forty Seven, which was spun out of the lab of Stanford’s Irv Weissman. When Surface Oncology recently filed their S-1, they highlighted their own CD47 efforts and a slate of rivals that includes:
Alexo Therapeutics, Arch Oncology, Aurigene, Blink Biomedical, Celgene, Novimmune, OSE Immunotherapeutics, Sorrento, Synthon Holding and Trillium Therapeutics.
Now they can add Boehringer.
Boehringer believes it has a strong contender for the crown here with the late preclinical OSE-172, which they in-licensed from France’s OSE Immunotherapeutics. In addition to the upfront and first milestone of $18.5 million at the launch of a looming Phase I trial, there’s a treasure trove of $1.35 billion in development, regulatory and commercial milestones.
“A key area of focus is the identification of drugs that target myeloid cell immune regulatory receptors of which SIRP-alpha is a leading example,” says Jonathon Sedgwick, the global head of cancer immunology at Boehringer. And he believes that Boehringer can easily distinguish itself from the CD47 pack.
“We feel this is the better way to go,” Sedgwick tells me. As of now, he believes that Boehringer has the only SIRP-alpha program headed to the clinic, with a chance of hitting an important target with much greater specificity than the CD47 approach.
“If you block CD47 then you’re also blocking many other pathways,” he adds, which could complicate matters.
Boehringer has been building its I/O program for several years now, working with an in-house PD-1 checkpoint that it plans to use for its combination drug work in the field, centering on building an immune response to cold tumors. The plan with this new drug is to start a slate of Phase I studies in a range of tumor types and look for signals on what should advance toward pivotal programs.
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