Lilly pens $730M biobucks deal with Sosei Heptares to get in on GPCR action

Eli Lilly has followed in the footsteps of many Big Pharma contemporaries by penning its own $730 million deal with Sosei Heptares to work on small molecules that modulate G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) targets.

As part of the collaboration—which will focus on diabetes and metabolic diseases—Lilly will hand over a relatively modest $37 million upfront. However, Sosei could be in line for up to $694 million in development and commercial milestones on top of royalties.

The collaboration will leverage Sosei’s StaR platform, which designs GPCRs by engineering a small number of single point mutations, with Lilly’s expertise in diabetes and metabolic disease areas. The targets, the number of which was not disclosed, will be nominated by Lilly.

“Continued innovation across diabetes and metabolic diseases has been a key priority for Lilly for many years,” Ruth Gimeno, Ph.D., group vice president of diabetes and metabolic research at the Big Pharma, said in a postmarket release Thursday. “We look forward to combining forces with Sosei Heptares and are confident that this new partnership will enable us to unlock new targets and generate novel treatments for these diseases and bring new treatments to patients.”

GPCRs are a broad class of membrane receptors, the members of which bind to a variety of signaling molecules and are involved in a wide range of functions in the human body.

Researchers estimate that between one-third and one-half of all marketed drugs act by binding to GPCRs, according to a Nature, and that has made them a big target for drug developers although many GPCRs are “orphan,” meaning their precise roles and ligands in the body are unknown.

Lilly is joining a list of Sosei collaborators that includes many of the biggest names in the industry, such as AbbVie—which handed over a $10 million milestone payment to Sosei earlier this week—AstraZeneca, Roche’s Genentech unit, GSK, Novartis and Pfizer.

It’s not the first time Lilly has expressed an interest in GPCRs, however. In 2011, the drugmaker struck up a collaboration with Receptos—a biotech that was later acquired by Celgene—to research and develop small-molecule modulators of an undisclosed GPCR target.