Pfizer has teamed up with Imcyse to develop treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. The agreement will give Pfizer the chance to access modified peptides designed to induce cytolytic T cells and thereby eliminate the disease pathway without affecting the rest of the immune system.
Imcyse began collaborating with Pfizer in 2017. The research collaboration has now given rise to a licensing agreement covering the development of rheumatoid arthritis treatments based on Imcyse’s Imotope platform. Pfizer is making an upfront payment and participating in an Imcyse financing round to secure the deal, which could be worth more than $180 million in milestones to the biotech.
Having entered into the agreement, the partners will work to develop existing lead candidates and optimize potential molecules. Pfizer will take over once the drug candidates reach the clinic.
Pfizer’s interest in the platform is underpinned by evidence that it can generate therapies that treat autoimmune diseases without affecting the normal function of the immune system. Many existing treatments are only able to improve outcomes by dialing back healthy, normally functioning parts of the immune system.
Imcyse’s attempt to achieve more targeted effects is built around specifically modified peptides. Using the peptides, Imcyse aims to generate cytolytic CD4 T cells that eliminate antigen-presenting cells and autoantigen-specific lymphocytes without affecting the rest of the immune systems. If the approach works as well as Imcyse hopes, it could cure autoimmune diseases without impairing immune defense.
Work to validate the approach has advanced furthest in Type 1 diabetes. The insulin-based diabetes candidate, IMCY-0098, is moving toward phase 2 on the back of a phase 1b that found the drug to be tolerable and uncovered early signs of efficacy. A multiple sclerosis candidate is set to enter clinical development next year.
Neither Pfizer nor Imcyse have released a timeline for getting their rheumatoid arthritis assets into the clinic. Pfizer is currently running several phase 2 trials of other assets in rheumatoid arthritis, including a study that is assessing an IRAK4 inhibitor, a JAK3/TEC inhibitor and a JAK inhibitor alone and in combination.