Struggling Ionis licenses Bicycle Therapeutics' platform in a bid to develop drugs that can cross blood-brain barrier
Attempting to rebound from setbacks earlier this year, Ionis has enlisted a new partner in a quest to create drugs that can cross the blood-brain barrier. And the technology comes from a British biotech primarily known for its efforts into oncology.
The collaboration will see Ionis exclusively license a platform from Bicycle Therapeutics to develop oligonucleotides targeting the transferrin receptor 1, the companies announced Tuesday morning. Bicycle is nabbing $45 million upfront and an $11 million equity investment from Ionis.
There are also milestones for R&D and commercialization involved — though the exact figures remain undisclosed, each milestone will be in the “low single-digit million amount,” Bicycle CEO Kevin Lee told Endpoints News.
Tuesday’s deal came out of an evaluation and option agreement the two signed last December, where Ionis gave Bicycle $3 million to use the platform to validate potential targets, Lee said. Over the last several months, the research proved fruitful enough where Ionis exercised its option to fully license the tech. The $3 million figure makes up a part of Tuesday’s upfront sum, Lee added.
Ionis plans to utilize Bicycle’s platform to develop what they’ve termed advanced ligand conjugated antisense medicines, or LICAs, for use with oligonucleotides to target the transferrin receptor 1. Ionis has been working on LICAs for some time, and their goal is ostensibly to bring a new method to further push these compounds’ development.
Transferrin receptor 1 plays a role in the body’s natural ability to ship iron between the blood-brain barrier and into skeletal muscle, Lee noted.
Bicycle’s platform allows for the creation of synthetic short peptides that are constrained to form two loops. The structure is key in drugs that can deliver payloads to their targets effectively, and Lee said Bicycle has done this on its own to create cancer drugs designed to better retain such cargo within solid tumors.
The biotech’s strategy thus far has been to focus internal resources into oncology and partner with other companies who are interested in using them in other fields, Lee said. Tuesday’s oligonucleotide deal is emblematic of that strategy, he added, as Bicycle retains full rights to the platform.
“They’ve taken on most of the risk,” Lee said of Ionis. “But it’s still really exciting in terms of what they plan to do with the technology and what they can derive from these agents with oligonucleotide delivery … in doing so we can harness the potential of the technology.”
Bicycle had been working on adapting the platform for transferrin receptor 1 since 2019 in a partnership with the Dementia Discovery Fund, and with the new deal, Ionis can build on that foundation. It’s not the first collaboration Bicycle has entered to expand the platform beyond oncology. Back in 2016, it teamed up with AstraZeneca in a pact worth about $1 billion and has since signed on to partnerships with Roche and the UK government.
For Ionis, the deal marks part of an effort to rebound from two high-profile misses earlier this year, after a Huntington’s candidate failed in March and after the company scrapped its early-stage cystic fibrosis program in May. And in 2020, Ionis reabsorbed the biotech Akcea after spinning it out three years earlier, and soon put 70% of its workforce on the chopping block.