After gathering enough Nektar, Lilly hands back rights to immunology med post-lupus fail

The writing was on the wall for Nektar Therapeutics and Eli Lilly’s rezpeg collaboration, but, now, the Big Pharma is etching it in permanent marker. Rights for the T regulatory cell stimulator treatment are now headed back to the biotech.

Lilly made the change official in its first-quarter earnings report Thursday. A slide presentation noted that rezpeg, or rezpegaldesleukin, was being dropped from phase 2. Nektar confirmed the news in a separate release, announcing plans to push forward with rezpeg in atopic dermatitis.

Rezpeb failed to meet expectations in a phase 2 lupus study back in February. At the time, Lilly said it would drop that indication and reassess whether to continue in atopic dermatitis. Nektar needed the lupus partnership to work after lead asset bempeg, partnered with Bristol Myers Squibb, blew up in the clinic in 2022.

Nektar President and CEO Howard Robin said the company is pleased to have rezpeb back and pledged to move quickly to get a phase 2b study underway for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. Nektar will also consider other indications for the therapy.

“We believe the strong data generated to-date for rezpeg in atopic dermatitis show the significant potential for rezpeg to emerge as an innovative new mechanism with the possibility of disease resolution in a growing biologic treatment field,” Robin said in the release.

Lilly and Nektar previously presented early-stage proof-of-concept data in atopic dermatitis showing that rezpeg stimulates Tregs to target the immune system imbalance, improving disease activity in patients. Nektar believes that the therapy has the potential to have a quarterly maintenance dosing schedule and improve long-term disease control.

Nektar announced a strategic reprioritization and cost restructuring plan earlier this month, noting that immunology, including rezpeg, would be its new focus—with or without Lilly. The company also laid off 60% of staff at that time. Nektar previously let go of 70% of its employees a year earlier.

Lilly is also shelving two more meds, according to the earnings release. Alzheimer’s treatment solanezumab is officially out of the pipeline after a decadelong test ended in failure last month. The end of the study concludes Lilly's development of solanezumab, Chief Scientific and Medical Officer Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., told investors during a Thursday morning earnings call. 

The antibody targets soluble amyloid beta, and Lilly thought that dosing patients earlier in the course of disease would be key to eliciting a response. Unfortunately, the trial, which began in 2013, found that solanezumab failed to slow cognitive decline and missed the primary endpoint. Skovronsky said the results were not a surprise, given more recent learnings in Alzheimer's. 

Solanezumab was previously abandoned in 2016 after a phase 3 fail in people with mild dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. It was also unsuccessful in more advanced Alzheimer’s patients in earlier testing.Lilly is expecting a major readout for its star Alzheimer's candidate donanemab in the second quarter of this year. 

The other med to be cut is a TRPA1 antagonist for pain, according to Lilly’s presentation.