Lilly pens deal for Evotec spinout’s immune tolerance drugs

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Eli Lilly's headquartersTopas spun out of Evotec last year, picking up €14 million ($16 million) from its parent company and other investors along the way.

Eli Lilly has secured an option on immune tolerance drugs from Evotec spinout Topas Therapeutics. The multiyear agreement positions Lilly to work with Topas on candidates that convey tolerance to antigens linked to inflammation or autoimmune diseases.

Topas will run preclinical proof-of-concept studies of the drugs in collaboration with Lilly in return for R&D funding. Lilly has the option to license and further develop all drug candidates generated in the collaboration. Beyond that, the publicly known details get hazy, with Topas only saying it will “participate in the future success of any compounds in-licensed by Lilly.”

Whatever the terms, the agreement is an early validation of the nanoparticle platform that CRO Evotec saw as sufficiently promising to support a standalone biotech. Topas spun out of Evotec last year, picking up €14 million ($16 million) from its parent company and other investors along the way. The Lilly agreement marks the first time a big pharma has talked up the platform.

“Topas has a very novel approach to immune tolerance induction, which we would like to see successfully applied to certain disease relevant antigens,” Lilly SVP Thomas Bumol, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Hamburg, Germany-based Topas is built on a platform Evotec picked up from academic centers in its home country. The platform produces nanoparticles loaded with disease-relevant peptides. The endosomal compartments of liver sinusoidal endothelial cells take up the drugs and present the antigenic peptides to T cells, triggering the induction of anti-inflammatory regulatory T cells. In animal models, one intravenous dose of nanoparticles results in immune tolerance. 

Topas has applied the platform internally to conditions including multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. The multiple sclerosis program is the most advanced and will serve as a proving ground for the company. Topas penciled in a 2017 move into the clinic when it spun out of Evotec.   

The approach and indications pursued by Topas overlap with those of other companies in the emerging immune tolerance sector, some of which have been similarly successful in attracting the interest of larger partners. 

Parvus Therapeutics is developing nanoparticles designed to cause the expansion of regulatory T cells and landed a deal with Novartis on the back of its work in type 1 diabetes. And Anokion gave Celgene a buyout option after its approach to immune tolerance turned heads at the prolific dealmaker.