Gilead pays out $405M for a chance to compete with Eli Lilly's BTLA program

Pharma giant Gilead is handing over $405 million cash in exchange for MiroBio, a biotech developing BTLA and PD-1 autoimmune programs to go up against the likes of Big Pharmas Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson.

MiroBio, a private U.K. biotech spun out of Oxford University, was formed to develop agonists targeting immune inhibitory receptors that restore immune balance. Now, Gilead will gain full access to MiroBio’s discovery platform and portfolio of immune inhibitory receptor agonists.

The acquisition comes only three years after MiroBio started up. Just this June, the biotech raked in $97 million in a series B financing round, with support from investors such as Medicxi and OrbiMed, among others.     

MiroBio’s lead investigational antibody, MB272, is a selective agonist of immune inhibitory receptor B- and T-lymphocyte attenuator (BTLA). The asset entered a phase 1 program, with the first patient dosed just this week. MiroBio's website also notes a PD-1 agonist in IND-enabling studies, two other preclinical assets (without disclosed details) and multiple early-stage assets.   

Targeting BTLA offers a chance to down-modulate immune cell activity with the potential to treat a range of inflammatory diseases, a space that has attracted attention from several other drugmakers. AnaptysBio is prepping to launch a midphase study of its anti-BTLA agonist for in the second half, while Eli Lilly is testing a BTLA agonist in a phase 2 systemic lupus erythematosus trial.

The rival programs show there is “true clinical potential” for BTLA agonists while leaving room for MiroBio to differentiate its asset, Eliot Charles, Ph.D., chair and interim CEO of MiroBio, told Fierce Biotech in June. Commenting on MirBio's BTLA agonist, Charles said, “We think ours is a little bit different. And with these differentiated effects that we've seen preclinically, we think this will translate into a meaningful clinical benefit.”

MiroBio’s discovery platform, dubbed I-ReSToRE, helps identify and therapeutics that use inhibitory signaling networks. Over the next few years, Gilead plans to advance several agonists derived from the platform, including MiroBio’s PD-1 agonist MB151, according to an August 4 release.

When it comes to PD-1, MiroBio is a little late to the game. AnaptysBio took an anti-PD-1 agonist into phase 2 late last year, while J&J currently has a PD-1 candidate in phase 1. Early last year, Merck entered the space with its acquisition of Pandion Therapeutics, which gave it control of a preclinical PD-1 agonist.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referenced Carolin Barth as MiroBio's CEO. Barth departed the company in the second quarter of this year.