Anglo/German kinase specialist Cellzome Inc agreed a drug discovery and development deal worth a potential £830 million with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) plc to discover, develop and market novel kinase inhibitors to treat inflammatory diseases.
The alliance gives GSK access to Cellzome’s expertise in identifying and developing selective kinase inhibitors and its proprietary KinoBeads technology platform, which by screening compounds in cells and tissues derived from patients, is designed to reduce the attrition rate of compounds in clinical testing. Kinases play a central role in many inflammatory responses and the development of selective inhibitors is likely to be useful in treating diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Under the agreement GSK has an exclusive option to license compounds from Cellzome kinase programmes directed against four identified public domain targets, and three additional targets to be jointly identified by the two partners. Cellzome will use its KinoBeads platform technology to discover small molecule inhibitors of these targets, and then will develop the most promising through to Phase II proof of concept, receiving success-based milestones from GSK as products advance.
If GSK decides to in license any programmes it will then assume full responsibility for further clinical development and commercialisation on a worldwide basis. Cellzome retains the right to continue the development and commercialisation of drug candidates if GSK chooses not to exercise its option to that programme.
Cellzome was spun out of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg in 2000 and in 2001 acquired CellMap, a unit of GSK based in Cambridge, UK, and specialising in applying mass spectrometry to the study of protein interactions within cells. GSK retains some rights to Cellzome’s technology and held a small stake in the company as a result of that transaction. Although its operations are based in Europe Cellzome is headquartered in Boston, MA.
Under the deal with GSK Cellzome has received an upfront payment of £14.4 million, comprised of both cash and equity and is eligible for up to £118 million for each program in development, regulatory and commercial milestones.
Tim Edwards, CEO of Cellzome said, “This alliance is a significant endorsement of our KinoBeads technology, programmes and people. It is a major event in Cellzome’s development, giving us the opportunity to broaden our pipeline and progress several kinase programs towards the clinic.”
The deal is one of the first manifestations of GSK’s new approach to R&D instituted by its recently appointed CEO, Andrew Witty, under which the company’s Centres of Excellence for Drug Discovery (CEDD) will operate as small groups of between 5 – 80 scientists focusing on specific biological pathways.
“We believe that drug discovery is best optimised through research by small, focussed teams,” Witty said as he revealed details of the new structure to investors in July. “Building on the success of our CEDDs we have now pushed our organisational design further to increase product flow and value.”
At the same time GSK plans to increase collaboration with external R&D partners. “Externalising R&D enables GSK to capture scientific diversity and balance expenditure and risk in drug development. In the future, we believe that up to 50 per cent of GSK’s drug discovery could be sourced from outside the company,” Witty said.
This includes working with academe as well as biotech companies. Also in July, GSK announced the first of a new style of collaboration with an academic group, under which team of experts in neuroscience and metabolic disorders at the University of Cambridge will work with the company to develop treatments for obesity and addictive disorders. Cambridge will contribute know-how and expertise, as well as bearing some financial risk for which the university will be compensated if the programme is a success.
GSK will provide operational support, access to its in-house clinical research and imaging facilities, and background preclinical data on the drug. The agreement allows the academic scientists freedom to publish results arising from their work.