Fresh from $2.5B pact, BridgeBio, Helsinn expand collaboration to cover preclinical cancer prospects

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BridgeBio Pharma and Helsinn have agreed to work together on a GPX4 inhibitor that is in preclinical development. (Kritchanut/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

BridgeBio Pharma and Helsinn are tightening their ties. Having teamed up to develop one drug in March, the partners have decided to work together on more prospects, starting with a potentially first-in-class cancer candidate.

The expanded relationship will see BridgeBio and Helsinn propose co-development projects under a nonexclusive collaboration agreement. If either party spots a preclinical precision oncology program it thinks is suitable for co-development, it can bring the opportunity to the other company and set the wheels in motion for a collaboration.

In a statement, Helsinn CEO Riccardo Braglia said the arrangement “has the potential to be transformational” for his company. Braglia envisages “BridgeBio’s deep expertise in drug hunting and early preclinical development” complementing Helsinn’s R&D and commercialization capabilities to “facilitate an ongoing cadence of moving novel therapies into clinical development.”

The partners have already identified the first test of that theory, agreeing to work together on a GPX4 inhibitor that is in preclinical development. BridgeBio, working through its Ferro Therapeutics affiliate, began developing covalent inhibitors of GPX4 in light of the enzyme’s role in cell death.

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Research suggests GPX4 protects cells from iron-dependent death, a process known as ferroptosis, by neutralizing toxic free radicals. As such, BridgeBio is betting that inhibiting GPX4 will drive cell death. BridgeBio says it has seen monotherapy activity, shrinking tumors in a mouse liver cancer model, but combinations may unlock the full value of the molecule.

Combinations with immuno-oncology agents, kinase inhibitors and chemotherapy are in the cards. The plans are in line with the broader goals for the collaboration, which will seek to “identify small oncology interventions that may have greater potential to help patients in combination with larger investigational therapies.”
 
BridgeBio has previously identified renal cell carcinoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and pancreatic cancer among the diseases that may be treatable using GPX4. Bayer and the Broad Institute have also published work on inhibitors of the enzyme. 

The partners will share global development responsibilities under an agreed cost split. Helsinn will have exclusive manufacturing and commercial rights, with BridgeBio receiving a profit share on U.S. sales and tiered royalties on ex-U.S. sales.