Crescendo cuts psoriasis drug deal with China’s Zai Lab

Crescendo CEO Peter Pack, Ph.D. (Crescendo)

Just weeks after closing a $70 million second-round financing, U.K. biotech Crescendo Biologics has signed another partner for its slimline antibody-like drug candidates, this time outside its core cancer focus.

The Cambridge-based biotech says China’s Zai Lab has taken a worldwide license to an undisclosed drug with applications in inflammatory diseases, specifically psoriasis, and is planning clinical trials next year.

It’s the firm’s second partnership and the first outside oncology, where it has a $790 million alliance with Japanese drugmaker Takeda that was signed in 2016. Crucially for Crescendo, Zai Lab deal is the first to involve a specific pipeline asset, while Takeda’s was more of a platform deal, and will give it confidence in its ability to partner other programs in oncology.

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There’s not a lot of information to be had on the Zai Lab project at the moment. However, like all of Crescendo’s pipeline the drug has originated in the biotech’s transgenic mouse model that can be used to create building blocks based on stable human antibody VH domains. These can be combined into drug candidates—known as Humabodies—that are smaller than regular immunoglobulin G-based antibodies and can bind to multiple targets.

Their diminutive size means that they are just as selective as antibodies but can be more potent, are easier to deliver to tissues and also clear from the body quickly, which could reduce the risk of toxicity. Those qualities mean that Zai Lab is thinking about developing a topical formulation of its new pipeline candidate, according to its chief medical officer Harald Reinhart, M.D.—something that would be impossible with a conventional antibody.

“Biologics-based therapies are increasingly effective in psoriasis and other skin conditions, but are often associated with treatment-limiting immunosuppressive side effects,” says Reinhart.

“We see a clear benefit with topically administered dermatologic preparations which offers strong clinical efficacy and potentially safer for chronic administration.”

Crescendo’s primary focus remains on oncology, and specifically T-cell engagers, with an internal pipeline that includes preclinical prospects aimed at targets including PD-1, LAG-3 and PSMA. It is currently headed by prostate cancer drug CB307 which is a bispecific drug targeting both CD137 and PSMA and is designed to stimulate T-cell responses in the tumor microenvironment.

The company says its PD-1 and PD-1/LAG-3 targeting immuno-oncology drugs are also available for licensing, as is an anti-PSMA candidate.

Crescendo CEO Peter Pack, Ph.D., said “We are pleased to sign this agreement with Zai Lab, a foremost developer of innovative medicines across diverse therapeutic areas where there are substantial unmet needs in global markets. We’re delighted with the pace and efficiency of Zai Lab’s plan to develop clinical proof of concept with our Humabody.”