UCL spinout expands international licensing agreement for new bowel disease therapies

Extracellular matrix

Extracellular matrix

Engitix Therapeutics Ltd, a UCL biotechnology spinout accelerating fibrosis and solid tumour treatments using a proprietary drug discovery platform, has expanded its multi-million-pound collaboration with Japanese pharmaceutical firm Takeda.

The second collaboration with Takeda is focused on developing new drug treatments for fibrostenotic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Under the terms of this agreement, Engitix and Takeda will collaborate in the confirmation and validation of drug targets and the preclinical development of therapeutics in IBD using Engitix’s unique extracellular matrix (ECM) discovery platform. The ECM is the bioactive scaffold that provides structural and biochemical support to cells within human tissues and organs.

Takeda will have exclusive rights to develop and commercialise certain clinical candidate drugs generated against validated targets arising from the collaboration. Engitix will be eligible to receive a total of up to approximately $300 million (US) for the achievement of preclinical, development, regulatory and commercial milestones over the course of the partnership, as well as further royalty payments based on sales of commercialised products. This agreement builds on the collaboration between the companies announced in mid-2020, worth up to $500 million, for the discovery and development of novel therapeutics for advanced fibrotic liver diseases, including non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

Dr Giuseppe Mazza, a UCL graduate, Co-Founder and CEO of Engitix, and honorary Associate Professor in the UCL Division of Medicine, commented: "We are delighted that based on positive progress in our existing R&D partnership in liver diseases, Takeda has extended the scope of the drug discovery collaboration to now include fibrostenotic IBD. It underlines the value they see in using our ECM platform and the successful co-operation we have established.

"ECM remodelling plays a key role in driving IBD pathogenesis forward, and targeting this process in a specific and fine-tuned manner may contribute to the treatment of IBD by preventing both propagated inflammation, fibrosis and stricturing disease."

Engitix was spun-out of the UCL Institute for Liver & Digestive Health (ILDH), UCL Division of Medicine, in 2016 by Dr Mazza, an inventor of decellularisation protocols for human liver and other tissues, and Professor Massimo Pinzani, Director of ILDH and expert in the field of liver fibrosis, who continues to support the company as Chair of the Scientific Advisor Board.

The company has an exclusive license from UCLB, UCL’s commercialisation company, to the enabling ECM patents and other intellectual property. It has raised more than $60 million equity from investors to industrialise its ECM platform and evolve into a drug discovery company.

Engitix’s strong clinical focus in the area of liver and digestive diseases, including primary neoplasms such as hepatocellular carcinoma and pancreatic cancer, is directed at the rapid identification of therapeutic targets and the development of effective treatments.

By incorporating tissueand disease-specific human ECM from its extensive biobank of human tissues into cell-based lab experiments, Engitix’s platform preserves the natural cell microenvironment offering the unique capability of understanding the bioactive role of human ECM in modulating disease progression in fibrosis and solid tumours. By more accurately predicting disease drivers in human samples including the company’s proprietary bioinformatic tools, the platform has the potential to accelerate discovery and reduce late-stage clinical failures of candidate drugs.

Dr Gareth Hicks, Head of the GI Drug Discovery Unit at Takeda, said: "Partnerships are central to our R&D strategy, forming collaborations anchored around novel scientific approaches in disease areas where patients’ needs are greatest. Engitix’s ECM platform will help accelerate the identification and validation of novel targets that will be valuable in our search for better therapies for all those affected by GI and liver diseases."

Fibrostenosis is intestinal inflammation-driven fibrotic obstruction, most commonly seen in Crohn’s disease. Some 0.8% of the population of Western high-income countries are estimated to have IBD, with this forecast to rise to over 1% by 2030. There is no effective cure for IBD and the rates of primary and secondary treatment failure among current therapies is very high. The occurrence of fibrostenosis is not clinically predictable even after apparently successful treatments, and up to 70% of fibrostenotic Crohn’s disease patients require repeated surgical interventions. There is currently no clinical treatment for intestinal fibrosis in IBDs, so a significant unmet need remains for therapies able to modify the course of the disease.

 


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