BOSTON—July brought word that Jnana Therapeutics had entered a strategic, multitarget collaboration and license agreement with Roche for the discovery of small-molecule drugs directed at the solute carrier (SLC) family of metabolite transporters. The companies say that SLC transporters are an innovative approach for modulating cellular metabolism to treat a variety of diseases.
“We are delighted to partner with Roche to pursue the untapped potential of SLC transporters as a new approach to develop medicines in major disease areas with high unmet medical need,” said Dr. Joanne Kotz, co-founder, president and CEO of Jnana Therapeutics. “This collaboration with Roche will expand the impact of Jnana’s platform so that together we can broadly address compelling SLC targets and bring new treatments to patients with immune-mediated and neurological diseases.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Jnana will partner with Roche on discovery and preclinical development for a broad set of targets across immunology and neuroscience, which Roche will then further develop and commercialize exclusively. Jnana will receive an upfront payment of $40 million in cash, and may receive research funding as well as preclinical, development and commercialization milestone payments—and royalties. The aggregate value of potential future payments to Jnana could exceed $1 billion.
“Partnering with biotech companies that have innovative approaches to drug discovery is an essential part of Roche’s research strategy,” noted James Sabry, head of Roche Pharma Partnering. “We are excited about Jnana’s small-molecule approach to targeting SLC transporters, which represent a promising class of targets for discovering new medicines for patients across a range of diseases.”
“The collaboration grew from a longstanding connection between Roche’s global head of immunology discovery, Kara Lassen, and Jnana’s founders. Lassen had previously worked at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., in the group of Jnana co-founder Ramnik Xavier, and she was familiar with SLC biology and kept up with the science,” Kotz points out. “The connection catalyzed the deal talks that happened between Jnana and Roche at this year’s J.P. Morgan meeting in January. The deal came together really quickly from that point, and Roche moved with astonishing speed.”
SLC transporters are an important class of more than 450 human membrane proteins that are gatekeepers for controlling the movement of metabolites in and out of cells and organs. This protein family is diverse in structure and mechanism, with a wide range of substrates and cellular locales. SLCs ensure metabolites are present in the right place at the right time, which is crucial for health and often dysregulated in disease.
“SLC transporters are strongly linked to human diseases biology but under-explored, with only 20 of the 450 SLC transporters currently targeted by approved drugs. At Jnana, we believed a systematic approach was required to open up this target class,” continues Kotz.
“We select our therapy areas based on diseases where metabolites—the chemical building blocks and nutrients essential for life—play a central role, and where there is an SLC transporter that can be targeted to modulate the metabolite level,” she says. “We have built our internal, propriety RAPID platform and leveraged this platform to advance programs targeting SLC transporters in immune-mediated, neurological and metabolite-dependent diseases.”
The drug discovery and research activities under the Roche-Jnana collaboration will leverage Jnana’s RAPID platform, which is designed to overcome the challenges of directly targeting SLC transporters. The RAPID platform is a cell-based, proprietary platform that can be used to screen small-molecule libraries to identify novel modulators of any SLC transporter.
“We look forward to a highly collaborative relationship with Roche, in which Roche’s disease area expertise and leading R&D capabilities complement Jnana’s pioneering work in SLC biology and drug discovery. This agreement with Roche highlights the value of our RAPID platform, which is breaking new ground for targeting SLC transporters with a systematic, highly efficient approach—with the goal of realizing the potential of this rich target class to discover new medicines for patients,” stated Dr. Joel Barrish, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Jnana.
“Roche and Jnana both have a shared confidence in SLC transporters as targets in immune and neurological diseases, and Roche recognized that Jnana’s RAPID platform provides an effective drug discovery approach to this target class,” Kotz adds. “Jnana is also very excited to be advancing our own internal pipeline of programs modulating SLC transporters for other diseases, in addition to our programs with pharma partners.”