Anchors aweigh

Anchor Therapeutics enters into collaboration with Ortho-McNeil-Janssen for its pepducin technology

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Anchor Therapeutics has entered into a collaboration and licensing agreement with Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. (OMJPI) with the goal of developing G protein coupled receptor (GPCR)–targeted therapeutic compounds utilizing Anchor's proprietary pepducin technology.

Under the agreement, Anchor and OMJPI will work jointly to discover and optimize preclinical development candidates against GPCR targets in oncology and metabolic disorders, including Anchor's program targeting gpr39, a GPCR involved in metabolic diseases.

Additionally, OMJPI will assume responsibility for development and commercialization. Anchor will receive an upfront payment and research support and could be eligible for development and regulatory milestone payments up to $480 million.

The fledgling Anchor, which was originally called Ascent before it underwent a name change earlier this year, has aggressively targeted new partnerships at an early stage, and company President and CEO Dr. Rick Jones says it quickly became clear that OMJPI was the right fit for this collaboration.

"First, they were very interested in the technology, especially once they saw how productive it was against gpr39, a target of high interest to them," he says. "Second, they were fast moving in their evaluation and negotiations once they saw these results."

Jones adds that OMJPI, and Johnson & Johnson as a company, "have a history of pursing new technologies, and have shown a great deal of enthusiasm around Anchor's science and its potential for making real progress in the development of novel drug candidates against challenging GPCR targets implicated in oncology and metabolic disease."

Jones notes that in addition to gpr39, the collaboration will focus on a number of targets, some identified and others yet to be determined, in those disease areas.

"Specific indications are undisclosed at this point in time, but this deal does reflect the substantial opportunity of pepducins, as preclinical results have shown the potential to broaden the scope of GPCR-targeted therapeutics, in particular," he says. "We are focused on those receptors involved in critical pathways that have historically been difficult to modulate, and we therefore believe there is a strong possibility of first-in-class products resulting from this collaboration effort."

Jones explains that pepducins are lipidated peptide, allosteric modulators for G protein coupled receptor (GPCR) targets, especially those intractable to current approaches.
"They are composed of a short peptide derived from a GPCR intracellular loop linked to a lipid moiety," he notes. "Because Anchor synthesizes these peptides based on the known sequence of the GPCR, it is not necessary to know the natural ligand—this ability is key to opening up previously intractable GPCRs. The pepducin structure allows the lipopeptide to anchor in the cell membrane and target the GPCR protein via a unique intracellular allosteric mechanism."

Jones hopes the collaboration can boost the company's pipeline of GPCR-targeted opportunities.

"This discovery collaboration represents an important validation of our pepducin technology for creating new therapeutics to target GPCRs, particularly those that have historically been difficult to modulate," he says. "This collaboration … represents a great source of non-dilutive funding for the development of Anchor Therapeutics' pipeline."

This latest licensing deal is larger than Anchor's 2008 deal with Swiss drug giant Novartis, which involved milestone payments totaling more than $200 million for licensing options to candidates against a specific GPCR target that Anchor would develop. Investigational pepducins under this partnership are being developed for cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and inflammatory disorders.

"Our goal at Anchor Therapeutics is to develop novel, therapeutics in critical areas, including oncology and metabolic disease, based on our pepducin technology platform," Jones concludes. "We are working hard towards this goal and believe that this collaboration represents an important step towards that goal."

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