AbbVie, AstraZeneca See Value in what Cugene, Proteros Have to Offer


It’s common for smaller biotech companies with interesting technology platforms to partner with bigger biopharma companies. Today, two such deals were announced: Cugene and AbbVie on autoimmune diseases and cancer, and Proteros and AstraZeneca on epigenetic cancer drugs. Read on for more details.

AbbVie and Cugene Partner on Autoimmune Disease and Cancer

Chicago-based AbbVie and Waltham, MA-headquartered Cugene entered a collaboration deal to develop treatments for autoimmune disease and cancer. The deal focuses on a global license option agreement for CUG252, a potential best-in-class Treg-selective IL-2 mutein in addition to other novel IL-2 muteins.

Cugene’s CUG252 is an engineered IL-2 mutein that selectively activates and expands immune suppressive Treg (T regulatory) cells while decreasing undesirable IL-2 activity on other cells that express IL-2 receptors. This will be for autoimmune diseases. The drug is currently in a Phase I trial in healthy participants.

Dr. Luke Li, M.D., Cugene’s chief executive officer, told BioSpace, “We are applying precision engineering technologies to CUG252 by modulating interaction with the key IL-2 receptors. We are also advancing precision engineering technologies to create immune therapies with compelling targeting biology, including cytokine-based TILKine and VitoKine multiproduct platforms for cancer.”

Under the terms of the deal, AbbVie is paying Cugene $48.5 million upfront. Cugene will also be eligible for various milestones and a license option payment if AbbVie picks up the option, as well as tiered royalties. Cugene will run a Phase Ib trial in patients with autoimmune/inflammatory diseases. If AbbVie picks up the option, it will then run all future clinical development, manufacturing and commercialization activities. Li indicated that Cugene believes the asset has the potential to treat a broad number of autoimmune and inflammatory indications.

He went on to emphasize, “It’s important to note the collaboration with AbbVie is focused on autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. At Cugene we are also focused on developing oncology medicines. Using molecular modeling, our team is working to engineer molecules that reinvigorate tumor-infiltrated exhausted T cells with high selectivity and desired potency at targeted tumor sites. These novel molecules are designed for robust and sustained tumor killing with long-lasting memory effects."

Li shared further views on the partnership in a statement. “We are very pleased to partner with AbbVie, a global leader in the development and commercialization of innovative immunology therapies,” he said. “AbbVie is an ideal partner for CUG252, with their commitment to R&D, deep therapeutic area expertise and the global resources needed to maximize CUG252’s therapeutic potential for patients suffering from autoimmune diseases.”

Proteros and AstraZeneca Expand Collaboration Deal

Munich-based Proteros biostructures GmbH has expanded its collaboration pact with AstraZeneca focused on epigenetic drugs. This multi-year expansion adds on to an ongoing deal announced in June 2021. It will now include small molecule inhibitors for a second cancer-associated epigenetic protein.

Epigenetics is the study of how genes are regulated, switched on or off, under different situations and environments. Proteros’s technology platform allows high selectivity to a specific target variant across multiple protein families.

Under the terms of the new deal, AstraZeneca is paying Proteros undisclosed new research funding. The company will also be eligible for R&D and commercial milestones up to $75 million as well as tiered royalties on annual net sales.

“The expansion of our agreement with AstraZeneca with an additional drug discovery program reflects our successful ongoing collaboration to identify selective inhibitors for notoriously challenging disease targets,” said Torsten Neuefeind, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Proteros. “This agreement strengthens our collaboration with a global biopharmaceutical leader and we look forward to joining forces again to discover novel inhibitors with the potential to effectively treat cancer patients in the future.”

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