Sanofi teams with virtual reality biotech on oral Dupixent successor
Sanofi’s latest bet on a potential Dupixent sequel is a preclinical pill developed by a British small-cap that specializes in virtual reality chemistry.
The French pharma rolled the dice Monday on an up to $500 million deal with C4X Discovery. The milestone-heavy, $8 million upfront agreement will license to Sanofi a small molecule the discovery biotech developed to block the cytokine IL-17 — a potential oral treatment for psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions.
Over the last 20 years, drugmakers have developed an assortment of approved antibodies to block cytokines — messenger molecules in the immune system — ranging from IL-1 to IL-33, resulting in treatments for inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. But all of these treatments have to be injected, creating a huge medical and market opportunity for anyone who develops a pill version.
Sanofi has particular interest in such a drug, having relied on the mega-blockbuster IL-4/IL-13 blocker Dupixent to float its balance over the last three years. They’ve already invested in a handful of potential oral follow-ups, including a RIPK1 blocker from Immune Design and a protein degradation drug from Kymera. Both are now in Phase I.
The new molecule goes after IL-17, the same cytokine that Eli Lilly’s approved psoriasis drug Taltz targets. Taltz is an injectable, but Sanofi will have rivals; Leo Pharma and DiCE Molecules are both nearing the clinic with their own oral IL-17 blockers.
The newest addition to its portfolio comes from a company that’s brought a unique spin to computational drug discovery since it launched out of the University of Manchester in 2008. They rely on a virtual reality program custom-built to allow medicinal chemists to visualize and construct new drugs.
The result has been a series of sporadic deals over the years, including with Takeda, Evotec and the now-disgraced opioid-developer Indivior, with whom they brought an anti-addiction molecule into the clinic. Lately, they’ve focused on inflammatory disorders, teaming in February with Sano Genetics and BenevelontAI to study inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis.
“While antibody therapies have demonstrated the potential of IL-17 inhibition in the generation of highly effective treatments, the injectable route means many patients currently do not have access to the medicines that can change their lives,” C4X CEO Clive Dix said in a statement. “We believe that our small molecule programme has the potential to create high value, efficacious and convenient oral IL-17 therapeutics for this large market.”