Astellas cuts $795m deal with Pandion for type 1 diabetes drugs

Astellas Pharma is boosting its early-stage pipeline with a $45 million upfront deal to license bispecific antibodies from US biotech Pandion Therapeutics with potential in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

The exclusive deal, which includes another $750 million in potential milestone payments, will allow the Japanese pharma group to tap into Pandion’s R&D programme for type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases affecting the pancreas.

Pandion focuses on developing proteins, antibodies and bispecifics that activate immune pathways that suppress uncontrolled immune responses, which it combines with tissue-selective ‘tethers’ to focus their effects on target organs.

It has been working on type 1 diabetes since December 2018, when it received funding to launch a programme in this area from DRF T1D Fund, a venture philanthropy fund exclusively devoted to finding and funding type 1 diabetes therapies.

Under the terms of the deal, Pandion will come up with multiple bispecific drug candidates designed to tackle the autoimmune reaction to insulin-producing pancreatic cells that leads to type 1 diabetes, with Astellas taking over their development from the preclinical stage onwards.

Type 1 diabetes is treated using insulin replacement therapy, but so far no treatment has been identified that can tackle the autoimmune mechanism that underpins the disease.

The hope is that one day immunotherapies could preserve the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, and free patients from insulin injections or pumps which still leave patients vulnerable to complications affecting the eyes, kidneys, heart and nerves.

Other companies like Novo Nordisk and Sanofi are working on transforming stem cells into beta cells that could restore insulin production by the body, using vaccines to reduce the expression of cytokines linked to the autoimmune process, or developing drugs that can stimulate immune cells that suppress it.

“Our tissue targeted immune effectors are designed to directly address this aberrant immune response and modify the disease at the site of immune attack,” said Pandion’s chief executive Rahul Kakkar.

Astellas’ involvement “will greatly accelerate our R&D efforts and build upon our existing collaboration with the JDRF T1D Fund,” he added.

The Japanese company is already a player in diabetes with products like SGLT2 inhibitor Suglat (ipragliflozin), which was approved for type 2 in 2014 and as an add-on to insulin in type 1 diabetes last year.

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