Heptares and Imperial College London have signed an R&D collaboration to boost drug discovery for G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) disease targets in the gut.

Heptares, previously a British biotech and now a subsidiary of Japanese biopharma Sosei following its $400M (€333M) acquisition, specializes in the development of medicines that target G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), a major family of receptors associated with a wide range of human diseases. The company has signed an R&D collaboration with leading British university, Imperial College London, in an effort to bring together complementary teams and boost the development of new and existing GPCR-targeted drugs for diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

Gastrointestinal diseases, including liver disease, colorectal cancer, and ulcers, are the third biggest cause of death in the world. GPCRs are a valid target for the treatment of these disease as the gastrointestinal tract is the largest endocrine organ in the body, with many hormones acting on a range of the receptors. The abnormal functioning of GPCRs has been implicated in a number of gastrointestinal diseases, and the teams at Heptares and Imperial College hope to use their understanding of these receptors to develop new and effective treatments.

Heptares will fund and support various program looking at target discovery and validation, and control the commercialization of any compounds discovered during the collaboration. Gary Frost, Chair of Nutrition and Dietetics at Imperial College London, commented: “This research will build on the growing body of knowledge around these key membrane receptors… We hope this collaboration will enable us to uncover new druggable targets and develop new treatments which could have a far-reaching impact on patients.”

The gastrointestinal tract.

Another approach for the treatment of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract is to use the power of the microbiome. One company at the forefront of this field is Enterome, which targeting Crohn’s disease. TiGenix and its Japanese partnerTakeda, have taken an alternative approach to treating Crohn’s by developing a stem cell therapy for the autoimmune condition, which has received the backing of the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP).

Fiona Marshall, Heptares co-founder and CSO, told Evelyn that the company has “dabbled in other membrane proteins” but has decided to focus on GPCRs because “they’re such a huge target class: there’s so much opportunity there.” Although Confo Therapeutics also targets GPCRs, Marshall believes that Heptares has no real competitors in the field thanks to the company’s comprehensive approach, which looks closely at the structural biology of these receptors.

As long as Heptares continues to push itself in the field, the lack of competition should not be a big problem. As the targeting of GPCRs could have an effect in a wide range of disease areas, keep an eye out for the company moving into areas like drug addiction.

Images – Daniele Carotenuto / shutterstock.com; Tefi / shutterstock.com

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