Deal hungry Sosei Heptares brings Roche's Genentech on board as a partner
Japan’s Sosei Heptares is stacking up key partners. On Tuesday, the Tokyo-based company said it had joined forces with Roche’s Genentech to develop medicines that modulate G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR), an entrenched class of integral cell membrane proteins found in cells and tissues across the body.
The GPCR family includes receptors that are responsible for the recognition of light, taste, odors, hormones, pain and neurotransmitters, among other things — making it a popular target for drug development. About a third of existing medicines target GPCR — but about 224 of the roughly 400 receptors are still unexplored, Sosei said.
Scientists have found challenging mapping the structure of GPCRs when they are isolated from the cell membrane has proved difficult as they are typically unstable in isolation. The company — which reinstated founder Shinichi Tamura as CEO to replace GSK veteran Peter Bains at the helm late last year — is armed with technology that is engineered to extricate the GPCR structure from cell membranes while retaining its original three-dimensional integrity, enabling the generation of “small molecules, peptides and therapeutic antibodies targeting challenging or previously undruggable GPCRs.”
The promise of Sosei’s technology has lured a number of illustrious partners with deep pockets — this funding helps fuel the company’s internal pipeline.
Sosei, which acquired UK-based Heptares’ GPCR platform in a $400 million deal back in 2015, has a Phase II program for the symptomatic treatment of Alzheimer’s disease with Allergan $AGN, and a slate of immuno-oncology drugs in the pipeline with AstraZeneca $AZN. It also counts Novartis, Pfizer, Daiichi-Sankyo, PeptiDream, Kymab and MorphoSys as its partners.
Under the new deal, Genentech has nominated multiple GPCR targets. Malcolm Weir, Sosei Heptares’ chief R&D officer, said he was not at liberty to disclose the targets, but offered that they are broadly designed to address “disease areas of high unmet need,” in an interview with Endpoints News.
Weir said the company is looking to do more deals. “We were founded in 2007, and twelve years later we’re doing bigger and better deals. Fundamentally, the platform continues to evolve…we’ve adopted Cryo-electron microscopy recently.”
Cryo-electron microscopy is a technique designed to discern three-dimensional information about protein structures at the molecular level — it was pioneered by Heptares founder Richard Henderson who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 for his work. Henderson, along with Weir, Fiona Marshall and Chris Tate founded Heptares.
Under the Genentech deal, Sosei Heptares is eligible to get $26 million in upfront and near-term payments, in addition to future milestone payments that may exceed $1 billion, as well as potential royalties.
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