Gilead Sciences commits billions of dollars to Galapagos in autoimmune disease partnership that falls short of expectations. But the drugmaker is not giving up on this therapeutic area, and is now forging a new alliance with a new partner whose technology could lead to therapies for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The partner is EVOQ Therapeutics, a start-up company whose technology uses a novel approach to prevent an immune response to a specific antigen. Specific financial conditions of the deal was announced on Tuesday were not disclosed, but the companies said EVOQ could receive up to $685.5 million in upfront payments, exercise of options and principal payments.
Autoimmune diseases develop when the balance of the immune system is tilted towards excessive activation of immune cells. EVOQ’s approach to treating such diseases involves targeting dendritic cells, antigen-presenting cells that prime immune cells for an immune tolerance response or immune activation. The company says its technology can stimulate dendritic cells into an anti-inflammatory response that restores immune tolerance, a condition in which the immune system recognizes the body’s antigens and does not attack them.
EVOQ’s technology, called NanoDisc, is designed to enable the delivery of disease-specific antigens to lymph nodes, which are depositories of large numbers of dendritic cells. Under the terms of the agreement with Gilead, the two companies will collaborate on preclinical research. The deal gives Gilead the ability to exclusively license rights to the NanoDisc technology for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. If the Foster City, Calif.-based drugmaker exercises those options, it would be responsible for clinical development of drug candidates. If the drugs receive regulatory approval, Gilead will also pursue their commercialization. EVOQ will then receive royalties from Gilead’s sales of commercialized products.
“Despite key advances over the past two decades, there remains a significant unmet need for people living with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases,” Flavius Martin, Gilead’s executive vice president of research, said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to collaborate with EVOQ to further expand our autoimmune line to address the needs of people living with these conditions.”
Gilead expressed similar sentiments in 2019 when it signed a $5 billion deal for Galapagos cooperation on six drugs in the clinical stage and another 20 in preclinical development. This deal expanded an earlier alliance for filgotinib that was rejected by the FDA but continued to receive regulatory approvals in Japan and Europe for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. That drug is now largely in Galapagos’ hands, although Gilead will collect royalties from sales of its partner’s product. Other affiliate programs have also had setbacks. In 2021 Gilead and Galapagos halted development of ziritaxetat for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis after an independent data monitoring committee assessed clinical data and concluded that the drug’s benefits did not outweigh its risks.
Gilead is EVOQ’s second major pharmaceutical partner. Two years ago, the startup revealed a license and collaboration agreement with Amgen covering the development of new drugs for autoimmune diseases that were not disclosed. This deal puts EVOQ in line for up to $240 million in upfront and milestone payments.
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