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.
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.
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.”