Roche left the collaboration with Molecular Partners, walking away from a potential cancer treatment using the DARPin technology. The collaboration, entered in 2013, was worth up to €940M.
Molecular Partners is a Swiss company focusing on immuno-oncology. The company has developed a platform generating small proteins called DARPins (Designed Ankyrin Repeat Proteins). These can target specific ligands, similarly to antibodies. Natural ankyrin repeat proteins are very common in nature and assist in cell signaling and receptor binding.
In late 2013, Roche bought the rights to develop and commercialize several DARPin-based products to treat cancer. Molecular Partners received an upfront payment of CHF55M (€51M) and would have had the possibility of CHF1Bn (€940M) milestone payments, if Roche hadn’t backed out early. The Swiss giant removes therewith DARPins from its pipeline, that were designed to interact with the protein synthesis inhibiting exotoxin A.
We discussed other areas of mutual interest, but given our own proprietary focus on immuno-oncology, it made no sense to amend the current collaboration“, commented Christian Zahnd, CEO of Molecular Partners. “This way, we can avoid working on potentially competing pathways.”
Molecular Partners will now evaluate if the DARPins from the collaboration will be added to its own pipeline. Anyway, the company wants to strengthen its un-partnered pipeline. This includes advancing the clinical and preclinical development pipeline and ramping up the activities in immuno-oncology. Its in-house lead candidate is MP0250, an inhibiting DARPin that blocks tumor growth and is currently in Phase I. The second most advanced oncology DARPin is MP0274, designed to initiate apoptosis of cancer cells.
Furthermore, Allergan remains a strong partner on Molecular Partner’s side, in order to treat diseases of the eye. The first deal of their collaboration was Abicipar, a DARPin to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), for which Phase III was recently initiated. Last week, the US pharma company acquired multi‐VEGF/PDGF DARPin, another AMD treating drug in preclinical stage, and several additional discovery programs. The latter promises $35M (€32M) milestone payments; Abicipar even $1.7Bn (€1.5Bn). Despite small declines on the Swiss stock market after Roche’s back out, Molecular partners remain on the ascending branch.