GSK dives even deeper into oligo strategy with Elsie Biotechnology pair-up

Earlier this year, GSK executives explained to Fierce Biotech why they felt the company’s push into oligonucleotides was such a good fit. Now, the British Big Pharma has added further depth to this strategy courtesy of a research collaboration with Elsie Biotechnologies.

GSK plans to use Elsie’s oligonucleotide discovery platform to find new therapies, with the companies entering an “initial research period to explore the platform’s capabilities.” Should that prove fruitful, GSK has the option to secure a nonexclusive license from Elsie for “the platform and P(V) chemistry technologies to employ in GSK’s own oligonucleotide drug discovery research.”

In return, San Diego-based Elsie will receive an undisclosed upfront payment. The real value will likely be seen if GSK takes up a licensing option, although the company didn’t give any details of how much the resulting licensing fees or development and commercial milestone payments could add up to. They also did not disclose the targets to be explored through the partnership.

Oligonucleotides are short strands of synthetic DNA or RNA that can reduce, restore or modulate RNA through several different mechanisms. Announcing the partnership Monday morning, Elsie said its platform is “an unparalleled ultra-high throughput proprietary process that allows for the complete evaluation of oligonucleotide chemical space.”

The aim is to ensure that potential oligonucleotide therapies “can be evaluated to increase activity, reduce toxicity, and improve delivery,” the company said.

Echoing a sentiment expressed by GSK executives to Fierce this year, Elsie said today that the “collaboration combines GSK's extensive expertise in DNA encoded library technologies with Elsie's drug discovery platform.”

The confidence in GSK’s genetics expertise is certainly the reason the Big Pharma has given for going deep into the oligo space. “It's a really important area for us, where the technology of oligos fits so nicely with our expertise in genetics and novel targets, and we're going to be looking to optimize that,” GSK’s head of research John Lepore, M.D., said in an interview in February.

At the time, Lepore hinted at “all sorts of business development deals” that GSK could consider in the oligo space. The company already handed $170 million to Wave Life Sciences in December 2022 to use the company’s oligonucleotide platform, which offers three RNA-targeting modalities in the form of editing, splicing and silencing.

The crown jewel in the Wave deal was WVE-006, a preclinical RNA editing therapy targeting alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited disorder that can cause lung and liver diseases. However, GSK’s oligonucleotide pipeline is far more advanced, led by bepirovirsen, a collaboration with Ionis Pharmaceuticals that is now in a pair of phase 3 trials as a potential “functional cure” for hepatitis B virus infection.

There’s also GSK4532990, a collaboration with Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals that’s in phase 2 development for the notoriously tricky liver indication nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.