Weighed down by safety concerns of JAK portfolio, Pfizer hatches a deal to go a different direction in rheumatoid arthritis
Days after conceding that its blockbuster JAK inhibitor flunked a post-marketing safety study, Pfizer has signed off on a brand new approach to rheumatoid arthritis.
The decision triggers a new licensing deal with Belgian biotech Imcyse, a partner since 2017. The milestones are modest at up to $180 million, but what matters more for the smaller player might be Pfizer’s promise to invest in its next financing round on top of the cash payment.
Front and center in the deal are Imotopes, a class of synthetic peptides designed to block the immune responses to blame for autoimmune diseases. Each Imotope consists of a combination of T cell epitopes.
It works, according to Imcyse, by generating Imotope-specific cytolytic CD4 T cells that can take out antigen-presenting cells and lymphocytes specific to the autoantigen:
Imcyse’s approach to immune tolerance could also be considered as “immune-deletion” of the specific immune cells involved in the immune reaction rather than “immune-suppression”; this is quite unique and distinctively different from what most others in the field are trying to accomplish, e.g. induction of T(regs).
Having studied how the mechanism works up close for the past three years, Mike Vincent — CSO of the inflammation and immunology research unit — will now join Imcyse’s scientific advisory board.
But don’t expect Imotopes to come to the rescue soon. Pfizer and Imcyse are working to optimize molecules and push the lead candidates into the clinic, at which point the pharma giant will take over.