With $300M up for grabs, Engitix helps Takeda dig into extracellular matrix in search of IBD drugs

Takeda has tapped Engitix for a solution to an unmet need in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Having inked a $500 million deal to work with Engitix in liver diseases in 2020, Takeda has now put up a further $300 million to expand use of the extracellular matrix (ECM) discovery platform to IBD.

London-based Engitix is built on a platform that enables it to study the composition and biology of the ECM, the non-cellular component found in all connective tissues, to identify protein signatures linked to the targeted disease. While once seen as merely a physical barrier to chemotherapy and immune cells, more recent studies have pointed to a potential role for the ECM in driving fibrosis and solid tumors.

Engitix’s work to understand that role and develop treatments that exploit it has caught the attention of Takeda, which teamed up to collaborate on liver diseases including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis in 2020. Two years later, Takeda has again turned to Engitix for help with one of its target diseases: IBD.

Driven by blockbuster Entyvio, IBD has emerged as a key area for Takeda. However, the current set of drugs are unable to stop many patients from suffering stricturing, the narrowing of the intestine because of scar tissue in its wall. Engitix thinks the challenge of countering stricturing falls in its wheelhouse. 

“This increase of thickness is basically fibrosis. In order to treat those patients, we need to understand how fibrosis works and develop antifibrotic therapies for IBD,” Engitix CEO Giuseppe Mazza said. “We have already performed composition analysis through proteomic study of the diseased tissue, identified targets, and also added back fibroblasts and other key drivers of fibrosis in IBD.”

Takeda has signed up to support the next steps. The deal gives Takeda exclusive rights to develop and commercialize clinical candidates generated against validated targets arising from the collaboration. In return, Takeda will make an upfront payment and commit up to around $300 million in preclinical, development, regulatory and commercial milestones. The next steps are the confirmation and validation of the targets along with preclinical development. 

Landing the second Takeda deal provides additional external validation for Engitix, which raised a $54 million series A round at the start of the year to support development of its own pipeline. The internal pipeline is led by a primary sclerosing cholangitis candidate and features solid tumor programs against diseases including pancreatic adenocarcinoma and liver metastasis. 

“These are all ECM driven. We have shown in oncology that the ECM drives chemotherapy resistance, not by limiting the diffusion of chemotherapy to the issue, but actually by activating pathways on the cellular side that then drive chemotherapy resistance,” Mazza said.