Genentech joins immune tolerance field with Parvus hookup

Roche's James Sabry called Parvus' approach “potentially transformative." (Genentech)

Genentech has teamed up with Parvus Therapeutics to develop immune tolerance drugs. The Roche subsidiary put together an $800 million-plus deal to work with Parvus on drugs to treat autoimmune diseases.

Parvus is one of a clutch of biotechs including Anokion, AnTolRx and Topas Therapeutics that have used immune tolerance skills to catch the attention of big biopharma companies. In Parvus' case, its know-how has manifested in the creation of Navacims, drugs designed to turn effector T cells into regulatory T cells and thereby block the attacks on self-antigens that underpin autoimmune diseases. 

Novartis bought into the idea in 2017, securing the rights to Parvus’ lead Type 1 diabetes drug. And Roche has now followed its Swiss neighbor, signing off on a deal that could give its Genentech unit a source of drugs against inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune liver diseases and celiac disease.

Genentech is making an upfront payment to secure the deal, but the meat of the $800 million-plus total value touted by Parvus is likely tied to research, development and commercialization milestone payments. Parvus is in line to receive milestones for each disease area covered by the deal.

To pocket those payments, Parvus will need to use its platform to identify Navacims against the three diseases and take them up to the end of phase 1. That done, Genentech will step in to take the drugs through phase 2 and beyond, awarding milestone payments to Parvus as it goes. 

James Sabry, global head of pharma partnering at Roche, talked up Parvus’ technology, calling it a “potentially transformative approach for treating autoimmune diseases by inducing immune tolerance without causing generalized immune suppression.”

Parvus is yet to generate clinical data to back up such talk. The programs covered by the Novartis and Genentech deals, which span from lead candidate selection to preclinical development, comprise all of the biotech’s publicly disclosed pipeline. But Sabry and his colleagues have seen enough promise in the early-stage data to spark their interest. 

“In preclinical testing, Parvus’ platform has shown the ability to induce and expand disease-specific regulatory T cells, which restore immune system balance and halt the autoimmune disease process,” Sabry said in a statement.

Other immune tolerance biotechs have similar aspirations and are going after an overlapping set of indications. These efforts remain in the early stages of R&D, but a who’s who of big biopharma firms have already signed up to support the programs.