Accent, AstraZeneca take aim at RNA modifiers in $55M cancer pact

Accent Therapeutics worked two important pieces into its deal with AstraZeneca: the option to split U.S. costs and profits for the first program and the ability to sign on other partners. (mohamed_hassan/Pixabay)

Since it launched in 2018, Accent Therapeutics has busied itself discovering new targets for cancer drugs in the space of RNA-modifying proteins (RMPs). But the time for lying low is over—just weeks after the biotech raised a $63 million round, it’s striking its first Big Pharma partnership with AstraZeneca.

Accent is netting $55 million upfront in a discovery, development and commercialization deal, but it stands to pick up as much as $1.1 billion in option fees and milestone payments. Under the deal, the biotech will handle R&D work for a nominated preclinical program through the end of phase 1, at which point AstraZeneca will take over clinical development and commercialization activities. The Big Pharma also has the option to license two more programs, for which Accent will do some preclinical work.

Accent worked two important pieces into the deal: the option to split U.S. costs and profits for the first program and the ability to sign on other partners, Accent CEO Shakti Narayan told FierceBiotech.

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“It’s very important to us that we retain the ability to do additional collaborations because it is a broad space with multiple targets that we, even in the context of a single partnership, wouldn’t be able to go after,” Narayan said.

Accent is developing small molecules against RMPs, which alter the “blueprints” of DNA and define what cells do. The company reckons there are several hundred RMPs out there and is working to understand the role they play in cancer as well as which patients would be most likely to respond to its treatments.

“Over the last five to 10 years, there has been an appreciation of RNA pathobiology, of how RNA goes awry in the context of different diseases. There are companies that are using RNA as a therapy in itself and there are companies that are targeting RNA directly with small molecules,” Narayan said. What sets Accent apart is its ability to get at a relatively new target—RNAs—using an old-school approach.

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“By targeting proteins or enzymes that modify the RNA, we’re able to leverage the standard small molecule medicinal chemistry approaches that have been used for several decades. Effectively, we’re not having to take on a lot of modality risk. In turn, we’re able to take on more novel target risk,” Narayan said.

Accent is keeping the targets and indications of the AstraZeneca deal under wraps, but Narayan said they do overlap with targets the biotech is pursuing in its own pipeline. It’s working on five programs of its own, including two it plans to push into the clinic in 2022: METTL3, an RNA methyltransferase that plays a role in acute myeloid leukemia and solid tumors, and ADAR1, an RNA editor for solid tumors.

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