Astellas, Pandion team up on Type 1 diabetes bispecifics in deal worth up to $795M

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Pandion launched in January 2018 to create better treatments for autoimmune conditions, in which the body “forgets what the self is and starts to attack its own organs.” (Pixabay)

As Pandion Therapeutics preps its lead program for the clinic, the autoimmune specialist is giving its earlier-stage pipeline a boost. It is teaming up with Astellas Pharma to discover, develop and market bispecific drugs for Type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases of the pancreas in a deal that could total nearly $800 million. 

Rahul Kakkar (Pandion Therapeutics)

Using its modular immune effector and tissue tether tech, Pandion will discover and design bispecific antibodies, while Astellas will take care of preclinical and clinical development and commercialization efforts. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Pandion could net up to $45 million in an upfront fee and research-related payments, as well as up to $750 million in development and sales milestones. 

The duo’s first focus will be Type 1 diabetes, but the technology could be applied to any autoimmune disease that affects the pancreas, Pandion CEO Rahul Kakkar, M.D., told FierceBiotech. 

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Pandion launched in January 2018 to create better treatments for autoimmune conditions, in which the body “forgets what the self is and starts to attack its own organs.” The standard of care includes “old-school” systemic immunosuppression—which can lead to all sorts of side effects—and newer anti-cytokine antibodies, which have improved care for some patients, but don’t work for all autoimmune diseases. Type 1 diabetes and Systemic lupus erythematosus are just two examples. 

Kakkar likens the company’s pipeline to a quiver and each program to an arrow tip. These are immune effectors, or proteins that essentially retrain the immune system to tell the difference between its own cells and invading ones. 

Pandion plans to move its lead arrowhead, PT-101, into the clinic for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the first half of 2020, Kakkar said. PT-101 is a systemically active—that is, not locally active—variant of interleukin-2 that boosts patients’ regulatory T cells, which help the body differentiate between self and non-self. The Astellas collaboration focuses on drugs that act in the pancreas and nowhere else. 

“We are able to take these arrow tips and create an arrow behind them. What I mean by that is we place those effectors in a bispecific format, an antibody that has activity at both ends,” Kakkar said. “One end would be the tip of the arrow that retrains the immune system. At the other end is a tissue tether, the antibody piece that goes directly into an organ and binds to proteins that are unique to that organ.” 

Pandion is disclosing neither a timeline for the partnership nor any specific diseases the partners are interested in beyond Type 1 diabetes. 

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The company is also working on a PD-1 agonist, as well as bispecific treatments targeting the gut, liver and kidney. But the 30-person company knows knows it will need help to go beyond those areas. 

“We have been and continue to be in conversations with potential partners to the diseases on which we are working internally ... We can’t do it all,” Kakkar said. This could include creating bispecific treatments for tissues and organs Pandion isn’t already working on or expanding PT-101 beyond IBD. 

“We are quite open to investigators proposing to us other studies and areas in which PT-101 may be applicable,” Kakkar added.