Takeda inks up to $500M collaboration with extra-cellular matrix biotech for NASH
With Takeda’s mass, over-the-counter sell-off nearing completion, the Japanese drugmaker is beefing up the discovery engine it wants to be the core part of the post-Shire company. On Tuesday, that meant their most recent foray into NASH — a disease that they have tried with little advanced success to develop drugs for in the past, but which remains a gold-mine for any company that can find an effective therapy.
Takeda signed a collaboration today with London-based biotech Engitix to develop drugs for advanced fibrotic liver diseases, including NASH. Upfront payments weren’t disclosed but Engitix will be eligible for up to $500 million in milestones.
The deal emerges out of Engitix’s ongoing work with Takeda. Takeda sponsored the 4-year-old startup with a LabCentral “Golden Ticket” last year, giving them access to lab space, lab personnel, and development programs in Cambridge. The idea now is to combine Engitix’s extra-cellular matrix platform with Takeda’s experience in gastroenterology.
Engitix is based on the idea that companies often fail to translate their preclinical work because they use cell lines that don’t take into account that matrix — the networks of proteins and carbohydrates that pass between cells, communicating and assuring the whole system functions. So far, they’ve built ECM models by taking resected tissues, breaking them down “decellularizing” them — literally removing the cells — and then later growing cell lines in what’s leftover.
Although the company is also focused on solid tumors, the first publication on their platform, in Scientific Reports, was a paper on the first successful decellularization and repopulation of a human liver extra-cellular matrix. The company’s lead indications are in primary sclerosing cholangitis and NASH, although both remain in the discovery phase.
The deal hardly marks Takeda’s first early-stage biotech tie-in for NASH. In 2016, they teamed up for an undisclosed sum with the RNA biotech Arcturus on NASH and GI discovery, and ten months later, they signed an up to $470 million deal with HemoShear to use their disease modeling platform for liver targets.
So far, those have yet to yield any clinical candidates or named pre-clinical candidates, according to the company’s official pipeline and the database on clinicaltrials.gov. Still, Takeda opted to expand both partnerships in 2018 and 2019, adding in last year’s HemoShear release that their efforts have yielded several preclinical candidates.
With the major clinical NASH candidates taking hit after hit, the Japanese drugmaker may have plenty of time to develop those. Leadership has been seeking to move toward innovation and high-profit products. The first drug for a disease estimated to affect millions of Americans would certainly fit the bill.