Roche boosts immunology portfolio with $580m Adheron buy

Roche has agreed to acquire Californian biotech Adheron Therapeutics in a deal that adds an early-stage clinical candidate with potential in autoimmune disease, fibrosis and cancer.

Adheron focuses on the development of drugs that target cadherin-11 (Cad-11) a surface protein expressed on cells in skin, lungs and joints that can have a profound effect on neighbouring cells, both positively and adversely, by regulating other cellular factors.

In 2013 it was discovered that Cad-11 is over-produced in rheumatoid arthritis as well as various malignancies, including breast, brain and pancreatic cancer, and seemed to be important in the progression of both disease types.

The researchers from the US and Northern Ireland also reported that Cad-11 over-expression was associated with much worse prognosis and – if its activity was blocked – tumour cells stopped growing. It has also been shown that switching off Cad-11 in a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis also led to significant reductions in cartilage erosion.

Adheron’s lead candidate SPD051 is a therapeutic antibody targeting Cad-11 that completed a phase I trial last year that showed it was safe and well-tolerated. Further development of the drug will be pursued by Roche.

Details of the agreement- which includes a $105 million upfront payment by Roche and up to $475 million based on achievement of certain milestones – were disclosed by UK-based Abzena, which provided the antibody humanisation technology used to develop SPD501.

Roche’s interest in SPD501 no doubt stems from the fact that the drug neatly straddles two its core R&D areas – immunology and oncology – complementing a pipeline which already includes more than a dozen late-stage candidates in these areas alone.

Last year, Roche added to its immunology portfolio with the $8.3 billion acquisition of InterMune – adding Esbriet (pirfenidone) for pulmonary fibrosis, another potential application for a Cad-11 inhibitor.

Adheron’s chief executive Hari Kumar said the deal “brings together Adheron’s deep understanding of the underlying science of Cad-11 with Roche’s vast experience in researching and developing next-generation medicines.”

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