Curis adds PD-L1/TIM-3 checkpoint antagonist to its cancer pipeline

Curis ($CRIS) has beefed up its oncology research with the addition of a new I/O candidate, coming out of its pact with Indian biotech Aurigene.

Through the collab, Curis grabs hold of CA-327--an oral, small molecule immune checkpoint antagonist that focuses on PD-L1 and T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain containing protein-3 (TIM-3).

Earlier this year, Roche ($RHHBY) became the first company to market a PD-L1 med in the form its Tecentriq (atezolizumab) when the FDA approved it for certain bladder cancers, and the company is lining itself up for a host of other licenses.

AstraZeneca ($AZN) is also developing a PD-L1 in the form of durvalumab, while PD-1 meds from Merck ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) have been on the market for around two years.

But for Curis, as well as targeting PD-L1, a negative regulator of immune activation, CA-327 also targets TIM-3--an inhibitory checkpoint molecule that plays an important role in immune suppression, and is co-expressed with PD-1 receptors on exhausted cytotoxic T cells in tumor tissues, as well as expressed on certain regulatory T cells.

This med comes out of a deal originally signed with Aurigene at the start of last year. Under this pact, the two have already seen Curis get CA-170, a first-in-class oral, small molecule antagonist targeting PD-L1 and V-domain Ig suppressor of T-cell activation, currently in Phase I, as well as CA-4948--an oral small molecule inhibitor of Interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase 4.

The in-license of CA-327 comes just a few months after the pair’s first oral I/O program entered the clinic--and less than a month after a $24.5 million investment in Curis by Aurigene.

“We are pleased with the progress of our collaboration,” said Dr. Ali Fattaey, Curis's CEO, “and look forward to working with our partner, Aurigene, to complete IND-enabling studies for CA-327 in the coming months and expect to file an IND in 2017.”

“We are delighted that our collaboration is advancing its third small molecule program in less than two years,” added CSN Murthy, Aurigene’s CEO.

“We continue to work closely with Curis to focus our collective resources, creating and developing innovative drug candidates in the field of oncology, including multiple first-in-class oral small molecule checkpoint antagonists within immuno-oncology.”

Curis was up 1.8% premarket on the update, with a market cap just under $500 million.