GSK bags rights to Sosei Heptares drugs against untapped digestive disorder target

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
GSK House in Brentford, U.K. (GlaxoSmithKline)

GlaxoSmithKline has struck a backloaded $481 million deal with Sosei Heptares to secure the rights to a potential therapy for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and related conditions. The agreement gives GSK global rights to a portfolio of GPR35 agonists discovered by Sosei.

GPR35 is a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) that was identified in the late 1990s. Information on the role of GPR35 was slow to emerge due to issues including an initial lack of ligands that regulate the receptor and the inability to study its function in rodent models. Despite those barriers, the field has now advanced to the point that GPR35, which is highly expressed in the gastrointestinal tract, has been implicated in immune disorders of the digestive system such as IBD.

GSK has seen enough promise in the research to commit to give Sosei up to $44 million in the form of an upfront payment, research funding and near-term milestones to secure global rights to small-molecule agonists of GPR35. The deal is worth up to $437 million in longer-term milestones, plus tiered royalties. 

The drugs covered by the deal include an advanced lead preclinical compound as well as a clutch of differentiated backup candidates. Sosei and GSK will work together during the research and early preclinical development stages of the R&D process. GSK will lead clinical development and beyond.

Although Sosei’s work remains at an early stage, the deal nonetheless gives GSK a chance to establish a leading position in an emerging area. Respivant Sciences took an inhaled formulation of sodium cromoglycate, known as RVT-1601 or, previously, PA101, into phase 2b as a treatment for cough in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patients last year, but the use of GPR35 agonists in IBD patients remains virgin territory.

Sosei, leveraging the GPCR platform it gained in its takeover of Heptares, has invested in translational biology to establish itself at the forefront of efforts to target GPR35 to treat gastrointestinal and immune disorders. The approach fits with how GSK wants to tackle tough indications.  

“Using genetics to prioritize potential treatments for a challenging immune disorder like IBD exemplifies the approach we are taking at GSK to develop novel transformative medicines,” John Lepore, senior vice president for research at GSK, said in a statement.

The deal with GSK provides further validation of Sosei’s pursuit of indications beyond the CNS field in which its Heptares unit first made waves. In June, AbbVie signed up to work with Sosei to discover small molecules against GPCR targets implicated in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.