Astellas, Drais to form virtual company

Virtual company Tacurion Pharma, Inc. will be the third formed by the two companies, and will support the development of vasopressin V2 receptor selective agonist ASP7035

Kelsey Kaustinen
TOKYO—Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma andDrais Pharmaceuticals, Inc., an early-stage drug development company, haveannounced the signing of their third partnership in the past year for thedevelopment and commercialization of an Astellas compound. The compound will bedeveloped by Tacurion Pharma, Inc., a virtual company that Astellas and Draiswill launch with $15 million from three investors.

Per the terms of the agreement, Astellas will licenseASP7035, a vasopressin V2 receptor selective agonist for the treatment ofnocturia, to Tacurion. This partnership echoes the other two deals between thecompanies, in which they agreed that ASP3291 would be advanced through TelsarPharma, Inc. and ASP7147 would be advanced through Seldar Pharma, Inc., both ofwhich are also virtual companies. As is the case with Telsar and Seldar,Tacurion will be operated by Drais' executive team.
 
The agreement stipulates that Tacurion will have anexclusive worldwide license for the development and commercialization ofASP7035, and will be responsible for all development, manufacturing andcommercialization activities for the compound, as well as the associated costs.Astellas will be eligible for a milestone payment and future sales of ASP7035,and will also have a one-time option to acquire Tacurion upon the successfulcompletion of a Phase II proof-of-concept study, which is expected to begin inthe third quarter of this year.
 
So far, a Phase I study has been completed for ASP7035, andthe compound is ready to go into Phase IIa. Nocturia is the nighttime urge tourinate, a condition that interrupts sleep and becomes more common with age. Itis generally considered a symptom of overactive bladder syndrome and/or benignprostatic hyperplasia, the enlargement of the prostate gland as men age.
 
 
The Telsar partnership between Astellas and Drais wasannounced in April 2012, when the two companies formed Telsar for thedevelopment of ASP3291, a melanocortin receptor agonist being developed as atreatment for ulcerative colitis. Yoshihiko Hatanaka, president and CEO ofAstellas, noted in a press release about the agreement that the partnership"enables us to move our promising compounds forward without any disruption inthe development process," adding that it also allows the company to "optimizecosts and control risks while accessing outside capital and expertise." A totalof $14 million was invested into the virtual company.
 
The Seldar partnership was announced in June 2012 for thedevelopment of ASP7147, a bombesin BB2 receptor antagonist for the treatment ofirritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea. A total of $13 million was invested inSeldar to support the ongoing development of ASP7147.
 
All three agreements are part of a long-term partnershipthat Astellas and Drais may expand by transferring other compounds fromAstellas' pipeline to virtual companies to be developed by Drais. 
 
All three of the virtual companies share the sameinvestors—InterWest Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures and Astellas VentureManagement LLC, Astellas' corporate venture capital arm. U.S. venture capitalfirms InterWest Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures are also lead investors inDrais. The three organizations will invest a total of $15 million into Tacurionfor the development of ASP7035, and Drais will serve as the exclusive providerof development services.

Kelsey Kaustinen

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