GSK still has a crush on oligonucleotides, sealing the deal with Elsie

Before being swayed by antibody-drug conjugates, one of GSK’s passion projects was oligonucleotides. As part of this romance, the British Big Pharma signed a research collaboration with Elsie Biotechnologies last summer, and has now decided to cement the relationship on Valentine’s Day.

Specifically, GSK has taken up an option to secure a nonexclusive license to Elsie’s discovery platform, citing a “successful outcome” of the original agreement to explore the platform’s capabilities. That means GSK can now use both Elsie’s platform and P(V) chemistry technologies in its oligonucleotide drug discovery research.

Under the terms of the June 2023 agreement, San Diego-based Elsie will now receive an undisclosed license payment and could be in line for development and commercial milestones on a per-target basis. Those targets haven’t been disclosed, either.

“We are excited to continue our work with Elsie, which aligns so closely with our focus at the intersection of science and tech,” Christine Donahue, vice president, molecular modalities discovery at GSK, said in the Feb. 14 release. “It builds on our industry-leading position in advanced platform technologies and exemplifies our commitment to the potential of oligonucleotide therapeutics.”

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

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

GSK is no stranger to the oligo space, having handed over $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 phase 1 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. The drug received a fast-track tag from the FDA this week.

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

In an interview with Fierce Biotech in February 2023, GSK’s head of research at the time, John Lepore, M.D., hinted at “all sorts of business development deals” that the drugmaker could consider in the oligo space.

Since Lepore’s departure from the Big Pharma in September, it had been unclear whether GSK’s oligo enthusiasm went with him. But today’s announcement suggests the company still has major plans for the modality.