Privately held French biotech Enterome SA has scored a cool $50 million upfront to co-develop its experimental early-stage Crohn’s disease drug with Takeda in its second collaboration with the Japanese drugmaker.
The microbiome-focused Enterome — which already boasts of collaborations with big Pharma players such as Johnson & Johnson $JNJ, Bristol-Myers $BMY — is set to work with Takeda $TKPYY in developing EB8018, a small molecule designed to selectively disarm virulent bacteria in the gut that can cause inflammation, without disrupting the local microbiome.
Interest in harnessing the microbiome — the genetic material of all the microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on and inside the human body — has exploded in recent years, as emerging evidence suggests these microbes, particularly those found in the gut, play a significant role in maintaining health, protecting against disease and/or helping fight illness. The global market for microbiome therapeutics is expected to surpass $890 million by 2025, estimates Persistence market research.
Companies such as Seres and Rebiotix are racing to develop so-called “crapsules,” or pellets containing healthy fecal matter, as a less-icky alternative to fecal transplants typically facilitated via a colonoscopy or enema, to transfer ‘good bacteria’ as a last resort treatment for recurrent clostridium difficile, a stubborn bacterial infection, among other indications. Data also shows microbes can help depress the immune system response in patients with inflammatory disorders, or accelerate it for diseases like cancer. For instance, certain bacteria are useful against cancer as they are believed to smoothen the path for PD-1 immunotherapies that are designed to take the brakes off the immune system, a mechanism that Seres Therapeutics is currently investigating in clinical trials.
Enterome has also made strides in this direction. It inked a deal with Bristol-Myers in 2016 to develop microbiome-derived diagnostic tests as well as biomarkers and potential drugs to use in tandem with the U.S. drugmakers immunotherapy platform.
In addition to the upfront investment for EB8018, Takeda has also pledged a future equity investment on Enterome, the companies said on Tuesday. If EB8018, which is currently in Phase I testing, meets certain clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones, it is also eligible to receive another hefty $640 million. If approved, the product will be co-promoted in the United States under a profit/cost-sharing structure. Takeda will be in charge of selling the drug outside the US, with Enterome eligible to receive royalties on net sales in these territories.
The tie-up builds on a 2016 deal, in which the two companies agreed to join forces to focus on microbiome targets across multiple gastrointestinal disorders.
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