Astellas Enters the Immuno-Oncology Field Partnering with Potenza Therapeutics

Japan’s Astellas Pharma is entering the immuno-oncology field, teaming up with privately-held Potenza Therapeutics.

The companies announced that they have entered into an exclusive research and development collaboration with a goal of advancing a portfolio consisting of programs with novel mechanisms of action targeting immune checkpoint pathways, co-stimulatory signals and regulatory T cells. Under the agreement, Astellas has an option that allows for the future acquisition of Potenza on pre-determined terms at the end of the collaboration period.

“We are at the beginning of a new era in cancer therapy. First generation immuno-oncology therapeutics have demonstrated meaningful clinical benefit to patients with certain cancers. The new targets and pathways that Potenza is working on offer promise for continued expansion of immunotherapy treatment options,” said Daniel Hicklin, PhD, co-founder of Potenza and the company’s chief executive officer. “We are excited to partner with Astellas to progress our programs in support of their strategy to become a global leader in oncology and next-generation therapeutics.”

As part of the deal, Potenza will lead drug discovery activities and deliver development candidates to Astellas, which will be responsible for clinical development activities and commercialization. The companies kept certain financial terms under wraps, but said that the deal includes an equity investment, option fee, research funding, and potential future acquisition and milestone payments.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Roche have already had success with antibodies targeting pathways, such as PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA-4. Astellas believes that, with Potenza, it can develop novel therapies for non-responders.

“Despite the recent clinical success of checkpoint-blocking monoclonal antibodies targeting PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA-4, there still remains significant unmet medical need in non-responder patients and unresponsive tumor types. Astellas is focusing on this unmet medical need with novel mechanisms of action and modalities,” said Kenji Yasukawa, PhD, senior vice president and chief strategy officer of Astellas. “I am pleased that we are collaborating with Potenza, whose team of scientific founders, management and venture capitalists all have a proven track record in the field of cancer immunotherapy. This collaboration is one piece of Astellas’ cancer immunotherapy strategy, and we will continue to make aggressive investments in this field.”

Prior to the collaboration, Astellas venture capitalist (VC) arm, Astellas Venture Management, was among investors participating in Potenza’s $38 million series A equity financing round closed in December 2014.

Source: Astellas Pharma Inc.

Last updated: 4/22/15; 12:05pm EST

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