Chugai Pharmaceuticals is shelling out ¥127.3 billion ($1.15 billion) on a new R&D site in Yokohama, where it will combine the work of two long-standing research labs in nearby cities. It will start building the new facility this August.
The two labs, located in Gotemba and Kamakura, worked on drug discovery research, as well as next-generation antibody technology and middle molecule drug discovery technology, the company said in a statement. As it increased its use of artificial intelligence and automation in those labs, Chugai realized it would make the most sense to house their R&D work in one place.
Chugai expects to finish construction in three years, in August 2022, and the site to be up and running the following January.
“At the newly constructed Yokohama Research Laboratories, we aim to accelerate drug discovery and deliver innovative new drugs to patients around the world at an extraordinary speed, by bringing together the individual strengths of Fuji Gotemba and Kamakura Research Laboratories that have been honed over the years, and leading from further deepening of knowledge on the disease pathology to creative target identification, in addition to strengthening the core drug,” the company said in the statement.
The news comes as Chugai prepares to file its IL-6-targeting antibody satralizumab for FDA approval in the rare autoimmune disease neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD). It is chasing Soliris (eculizumab), the anti-complement C5 drug from Alexion, which said in September it was preparing an FDA submission.
Patients with NMOSD experience attacks, during which the immune system targets the optic nerves, spinal cords and brain. There is no treatment approved specifically for the disease, so doctors currently prescribe steroids and immunosuppressants off-label to prevent attacks. Though Soliris may be in the lead, satralizumab could well catch up. Chugai tested it in patients with and without autoantibodies against a protein called aquaporin-4 (AQP4)—which is believed to trigger attacks when they bind to the nervous system—while Soliris’ data comes only from NMOSD patients with AQP4 antibodies. What’s more, Chugai’s drug is given monthly, via injection under the skin, while Alexion’s must be given by intravenous infusion every two weeks.
Soliris and satralizumab aren’t alone in the NMOSD race—AstraZeneca spinout Viela Bio expects to file its CD19-targeting drug for approval later this year. The company presented pivotal data for the candidate, inebilizumab, earlier this month, showing that it reduced the risk of NMOSD attacks by 73%. The data come from patients with and without the AQP4 autoantibody. And its dosing regimen would be even more attractive for patients: inebilizumab is given just twice a year, intravenously.