Takeda and Envoy form schizophrenia research alliance

Deal calls for $3 million upfront and $2.25 million per year over three years

Jeffrey Bouley
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JUPITER, Fla.—Envoy Therapeutics Inc., a recently formed drug discovery company, announced in early October that it has forged a three-year research alliance with Osaka, Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., aimed at discovering drugs for schizophrenia that will have greater efficacy and safety compared to current therapies.

At the heart of the deal is Envoy's bacTRAP platform—developed at Rockefeller University and with its roots in the government-funded Gene Expression Nervous System ATlas (GENSAT) project. The bacTRAP technology combines what Robert Middlebrook, Envoy's chief financial officer and chief operating officer, calls "innovative genetic engineering with new molecular biology techniques for labeling and extracting the protein-making components of specific types of cells."

Envoy's scientists will use bacTRAP to identify proteins which are selectively expressed in specific cell types within the brain that are known to be affected in patients with schizophrenia. Scientists at Takeda and Envoy will then work together to evaluate and select those proteins that hold the greatest potential for therapeutic modulation.

Under the terms of the agreement, Takeda will make a $3 million upfront payment as well as providing $2.25 million per year in research funding and fees. In addition, Envoy will receive potential progress-dependent milestone payments and royalties should one or more compounds advance to clinical development and commercialization.

"Using our research sites in the U.K., Singapore and Japan, this collaboration with Envoy offers the potential for Takeda to develop entirely new classes of therapeutics to treat the devastating effects of schizophrenia where there is a high unmet need for patients," said Shigenori Ohkawa, executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Takeda, in an official statement. "The novel drug targets we will identify and pursue are a key focus of Takeda's stated mission of contributing to the health of patients worldwide."

Middlebrook says that Envoy has been eager to apply its technology to numerous areas of the brain that are important to various diseases, "but we can't tackle every disease right away. As a result, we've elected to prioritize the diseases we approach based on their impact on society, the effectiveness of existing treatments and the expertise that our founders can bring," he says. "Schizophrenia quickly rose to the top. Existing treatments are inadequate for this disease that affects more than 20 million people worldwide, creating a devastating effect on society."

Also, he adds, Envoy's founders have extensive expertise in the neuroanatomy, physiology and biochemical regulation of brain cells and neurotransmitters that make up the circuitry that is disrupted in those suffering from schizophrenia.

"It was clear that schizophrenia was a great opportunity to demonstrate our unique technology," Middlebrook adds.

"The central nervous system expertise of Takeda's research organization is world renowned," echoes Paul Greengard, a Nobel Laureate and a co-founder of Envoy. "We are excited by the opportunity to accelerate our vision of helping people suffering from brain diseases, while clearly demonstrating the utility of our powerful technology."

Recounting the genesis of the deal, Middlebrook explains that Takeda's venture investment group, Takeda Research Investment Inc. (TRI), based in Palo Alto, Calif., has a mandate "to survey the landscape diligently for companies with new, working technologies—technologies that can change drug discovery by revealing new biological insights, reducing risks and accelerating the development of novel drugs."

Upon hearing about Envoy's technology, he says, TRI immediately recognized its potential and moved quickly to introduce Envoy to Takeda's research teams in the United Kingdom and Japan.

"When Envoy began looking for its first equity investors in the fall of 2009, TRI stepped up, investing in our initial equity financing and also providing us with a convertible loan," Middlebrook relates. "In parallel, Envoy and Takeda's scientists began detailed discussions to design a large-scale research collaboration focused on schizophrenia."

At a strategic level, Middlebrook says, Envoy is optimistic that working with Takeda will accelerate the timeline for an effective treatment to deal with a debilitating disease.

"That is the vision upon which Envoy was founded. At a tactical level, this deal will enable Envoy to apply its technology to such an important field without exhausting the cash we've raised from investors," he concludes. "The research we will do with Takeda over the next three years will allow us to demonstrate the power of our platform, learn from working with Japan's largest pharmaceutical company, and if our results lead to new medicines, generate significant milestone and royalty payments."

Jeffrey Bouley

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