AstraZeneca pays $45M, commits to $2B to team with Pieris

AstraZeneca has paid $45 million and committed to up to $2.1 billion in milestones to team with Pieris Pharmaceuticals. The agreement sets Pieris up to move respiratory candidate PRS-060 into the clinic on AstraZeneca’s dime and pull in milestones as it and other pipeline prospects advance.

Tiny Pieris is due to receive the first, $12.5 million milestone when it moves moderate to severe asthma candidate PRS-060 into phase 1. AstraZeneca will fund clinical development of the interleukin-4 receptor alpha-targeting protein. If the asset reaches phase 2a, Pieris has the option to codevelop and commercialize it in the U.S., bumping up the royalties or gross margin share it receives in the process.

Pieris has a similar codevelopment option on other assets covered by the agreement. The biotech will develop four other proteins against undisclosed respiratory targets. If Pieris wants, it can sign up to codevelop and commercialize two of these programs in the U.S. Milestones and commercial payments across the deal could ultimately total $2.1 billion.

Since AstraZeneca bolstered its respiratory business through deals with Almirall and Takeda, the Big Pharma has been better known for thinning that unit’s pipeline and portfolio than bringing on new assets. Over the past year, AstraZeneca has offloaded responsibility for two respiratory drugs in the U.S. to Circassia and licensed an early-stage program to Insmed. But in Pieris’ proteins it has identified a technology that has piqued its interest.

Pieris SVP Louis Matis, M.D., sees the size of the proteins, which are notably smaller than monoclonal antibodies, as part of their appeal in respiratory indications.

“Based on the limitations of many types of biologic molecules, direct delivery to the lungs via inhalation has been challenging to date for other classes of therapeutic proteins. Anticalin proteins have unique properties, not least of which is their size and stability, and show considerable promise for this route of delivery,” Matis said in a statement.

The partnership is the fourth Pieris has entered into since its transformation in 2014 and 2015. In less than one year, the company pulled off a reverse merger to land on the OTCQB exchange, upgraded to Nasdaq with a $25 million IPO and moved its headquarters from Freising, Germany, to Boston, Massachusetts.

An agreement with Roche was unveiled shortly after news of the Boston relocation emerged. And, after a quiet 2016, Pieris has hit the ground running this year, striking deals with Servier, ASKA Pharmaceutical and now AstraZeneca. The Servier and ASKA deals helped pull Pieris stock out of the doldrums. Pieris’ stock is up 71% this year but, ahead of the market opening following news of the AstraZeneca deal, is still trading below the IPO price.