A protein drug developer with roots in Germany continues to grow in Boston, MA, with the help of another partnership. Pieris Pharmaceuticals today cut a deal with AstraZeneca to develop a group of drugs for respiratory diseases, adding a new name to an already wide list of pharmaceutical partners.
Pieris (NASDAQ: PIRS) gets $45 million up front in the deal with the British pharma, which will work with the company to bring PRS-060, an experimental asthma drug, into human clinical testing. The Pieris drug will begin Phase 1 testing this year, at which point Pieris will get another $12.5 million, and AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) will fund the development of that program and possibly up to four other drugs for lung diseases.
Pieris gets an option to share in the costs and profits of PRS-060 in the U.S. once mid-stage studies begin, and will have similar options for two other programs the companies work together on. The deal, in total, also includes up to $2.1 billion in downstream payments, called bio-bucks, but such payments often never materialize.
Pieris was formed in Germany in 2001 as Pieris AG but after more than a decade in Europe the company has made a concerted effort to tap into the financial markets in the U.S. It first went public via a reverse merger in 2014, trading over the counter, then hit the Nasdaq the following year through an IPO. Both deals were small—a $12.2 million reverse merger with Marika, followed by a $25 million IPO at $2.75 per share—but they’ve given Pieris more visibility. Pieris has since opened up an office in Boston that now serves as its corporate headquarters, and since December 2015 has inked deals with Roche, Servier, Japan’s Aska Pharmaceutical, and now AstraZeneca. Pieris also previously signed drug development pacts with Allergan, Sanofi, Zydus Cadila, and Daiichi Sankyo, though only two such programs—a cholesterol-lowering drug partnered with Daiichi, and an anemia drug in the Aska deal—have even begun human clinical testing. The company had 49 full-time employees as of its last annual report, filed in March.
Pieris develops what it calls “Anticalins,” a type of protein drug that works similar to a monoclonal antibody—which can latch on to a target on the surface of a cell—but is a smaller and less complex molecule. Pieris believes this gives Anticalins certain advantages over antibodies, like the ability to be delivered directly to places antibodies might not be able to, such as the airways of the lungs. In its deal with AstraZeneca, for instance, AstraZeneca will license an Anticalin asthma drug, PRS-060, that, like Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ injectible antibody drug dupilumab (Dupixent), blocks an inflammatory cytokine that plays a role in asthma. Regeneron’s drug blocks interleukin 4 and interleukin 13, while Pieris’ drug interferes with interleukin-4 receptor A. Dupilumab is injected. PRS-060 is sprayed into the lungs through an inhaler, and possibly could be given at lower doses than antibodies administered systemically, Pieris says. (Dupilumab is also an FDA approved drug for atopic dermatitis, however, and Phase 3 data are expected shortly in asthma; Pieris has yet to accrue any human data on PRS-060).
Pieris is also developing of a group of Anticalin drugs for cancer. Three of those candidates are tied up in deals with Servier and Roche; Pieris has full rights to the other three.
Shares of Pieris climbed more than 30 percent, to $3.11 apiece, in early trading on Tuesday. The company will hold a conference call this morning to discuss the deal.