AstraZeneca inks big, backloaded deal for bicyclic peptides

AstraZeneca HQ
The deal gives AstraZeneca access to small molecules with antibody-like properties

AstraZeneca has penned a pact to develop bicyclic peptides with Bicycle Therapeutics. The value of the upfront payment, R&D funding and milestones could swell to $1 billion in the unlikely event all programs in the multitarget respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic disease collaboration come to market.

The agreement tasks Bicycle with identifying bicyclic peptides against an undisclosed number of targets put forward by AstraZeneca. Bicycle will then pass responsibility for further development of the candidates to its Big Pharma partner.

Interest in the peptides stems from evidence they combine the affinity and target specificity of antibodies with the molecular weight of small molecules. In oncology, Bicycle’s in-house area of focus, this combination gives bicyclic peptides the potential to penetrate tumors faster and in greater numbers than antibodies can achieve. Working with AstraZeneca, Bicycle plans to show its platform can also support the creation of effective inhaled therapeutics.

“Bicycle’s focus so far has been in oncology and bringing AstraZeneca’s expertise in respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic disease to their platform substantially expands its potential,” AstraZeneca VP Kumar Srinivasan said in a statement.

The potential of the peptide platform, when paired to the involvement of antibody pioneer Sir Greg Winter, persuaded Atlas Venture, SV Life Sciences and the VC wings of Astellas, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis to stump up £20 million ($32 million) to get Bicycle started in 2014. And helped it lure Kevin Lee from Pfizer to serve as CEO. A clutch of other people have since joined Lee in Bicycle’s ranks of executives.

While these advances have highlighted Bicycle as a biotech to watch, the company has lacked the cash and kudos that comes from snagging a Big Pharma partner. AstraZeneca fills these gaps, and gives Bicycle the chance to apply its technology to new therapeutic areas while retaining its in-house focus.

Cambridge, U.K.-based Bicycle chose oncology as its initial in-house area of focus for the aforementioned speed of penetration. In preclinical tests, the lead bicycle drug conjugate targeting membrane type 1 matrix metalloproteinase has quickly hustled cytotoxic payloads into tumors, limiting systemic exposure. Bicycle plans to move this lead candidate into the clinic next year.