Col­orec­tal drug can­di­dates fo­cal point of new col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Servi­er, Cel­sius Ther­a­peu­tics

A well-known in­ter­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny and a rel­a­tive­ly new US pre­ci­sion ther­a­peu­tics start­up are join­ing forces to iden­ti­fy and val­i­date nov­el col­orec­tal can­cer drug tar­gets.

French phar­ma Servi­er and Cam­bridge, MA-based start­up Cel­sius Ther­a­peu­tics will work to­geth­er over a three-year pe­ri­od to re­search, de­vel­op, and com­mer­cial­ize up to three of the most promis­ing col­orec­tal can­cer drug dis­cov­ery tar­gets.

In an in­ter­view with End­points News, Cel­sius CEO Tariq Kas­sum said that with­in the col­orec­tal can­cer dis­ease spec­trum, the num­ber of dif­fer­ent sub­sets of dis­ease make it dif­fi­cult to treat. Some pa­tients, for ex­am­ple, re­spond to ther­a­peu­tics, while some don’t due to what Kas­sum called the “mu­ta­tion­al bur­den” of the can­cer.

Tariq Kas­sum

This is where Cel­sius’ work comes in­to play. The com­pa­ny has a ge­nomics plat­form that al­lows it to study tis­sue at a sin­gle-cell RNA lev­el — mean­ing it can study the dif­fer­ent re­sponse types of col­orec­tal can­cer pa­tients to fig­ure out what ex­act­ly is caus­ing the dis­crep­an­cies.

The lack of a co­he­sive treat­ment re­sponse is one of the most press­ing and un­met med­ical needs for col­orec­tal can­cer pa­tients, Kas­sum said, and that’s why Cel­sius is part­ner­ing with Servi­er in the hopes of ad­vanc­ing drug can­di­dates to the clin­i­cal tri­al stage.

Kas­sum said he and his team have known folks from Servi­er for years, and their work­ing re­la­tion­ship was strong enough that Kas­sum couldn’t re­mem­ber which group ap­proached the oth­er about work­ing to­geth­er.

But Cel­sius’ ge­nomics plat­form be­gan to gain mo­men­tum with­in the last year or so, which al­lowed the col­lab­o­ra­tion to be ini­ti­at­ed in the ear­ly half of 2020 and the fi­nan­cial as­pects of the deal to be worked out in the lat­ter half of the year.

“It’s one of these dis­cus­sion se­ries that had been on­go­ing for some time,” Kas­sum said. “I al­ways say that the num­ber one thing that you can do to pre­dict the suc­cess of bio­phar­ma part­ner­ships is to see what the tone of the ne­go­ti­a­tion was like, and this team was great to work with. It was su­per con­struc­tive and re­al­ly all about prob­lem solv­ing, not about butting heads.”

Terms of the col­lab­o­ra­tion agree­ment dic­tate that Servi­er will re­ceive an ex­clu­sive op­tion to re­search, de­vel­op, and com­mer­cial­ize prod­ucts di­rect­ed to up to three drug tar­gets while Cel­sius will re­ceive an up­front pay­ment and re­search fund­ing, and would be el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive over $700 mil­lion in po­ten­tial  dis­cov­ery, de­vel­op­ment, and com­mer­cial­iza­tion mile­stone pay­ments, along with tiered roy­al­ties from suc­cess­ful can­di­dates.

Servi­er’s glob­al head of on­col­o­gy R&D, Hugues Dol­gos, said in a press re­lease that Cel­sius’ tech­nol­o­gy will al­low Servi­er to dis­cov­er and de­vel­op drug can­di­dates that are even more in tune with the com­pa­ny’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties in small and large mol­e­cules.

“As col­orec­tal can­cer re­mains a lead­ing con­trib­u­tor to can­cer deaths world­wide, we see an ur­gent need to bring for­ward new ther­a­peu­tic op­tions for pa­tients,” Dol­gos said.

Hugues Dol­gos

Though Cel­sius formed on­ly a few years ago, Kas­sum told End­points that the Servi­er col­lab­o­ra­tion shows sim­ply that its tech­nol­o­gy is work­ing and work­ing well to make the in­roads it set out to make.

For ex­am­ple, in ad­di­tion to the on­co­log­i­cal fo­cus of this col­lab­o­ra­tion, Cel­sius al­so has an on­go­ing deal with Janssen to iden­ti­fy re­sponse bio­mark­ers for ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis and is al­so work­ing on a myr­i­ad of re­search re­lat­ed to in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease.

“Peo­ple who fol­low these things will see that Cel­sius is a com­pa­ny that got launched a cou­ple of years ago with a very am­bi­tious man­date around us­ing sin­gle-cell RNA se­quenc­ing to bet­ter un­der­stand these com­plex dis­eases — can­cers and au­toim­mune dis­ease,” Kas­sum said.

“Where we are to­day is the ma­chine is run­ning. The plat­form is work­ing. But it took a while to get run­ning be­cause it’s ac­tu­al­ly fair­ly com­pli­cat­ed,” he said. “ … I think the thing that’s re­al­ly cool about this is that it’s an ex­ter­nal win­dow in­to show­ing that the ma­chine is up and run­ning.”

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