Neurocrine, Jnana team up to discover CNS drugs

Mouse Neurons
Jnana is in line to receive milestones and royalties. (NICHD/S. Jeong)

Neurocrine Biosciences has teamed up with Jnana Therapeutics to develop drugs that target solute carrier (SLC) metabolite transporters. The collaboration gives Neurocrine a potential source of small molecules to treat disorders of the central nervous system.

SLCs are a 400-strong family of membrane proteins that control the flow of metabolites into and out of cells. Multiple companies have tried to drug the proteins—SGLT2 inhibitors being a recent example of a successful effort—but the therapeutic potential of the vast majority of SLCs remains untapped and underexplored.

Jnana, a 2018 Fierce 15 winner, is working to develop small molecules that open new, SLC-focused opportunities to treat disease. In Neurocrine, Jnana has found a biotech willing to support its efforts.

Neurocrine is making an upfront payment and committing research funding for the chance to jointly work with Jnana on the identification of novel compounds. This stage of the project will make use of Jnana’s drug discovery platform. Beyond that, Neurocrine will take the most promising compounds through further lead optimization and the rest of the development and commercialization process.

Jnana is in line to receive milestones and royalties if assets advance through development and start racking up commercial sales. Neither company has disclosed the value of the deal.

The deal comes with some nonfinancial perks for Jnana, too. Neurocrine is giving Jnana a one-time opportunity to screen a subset of its compound library for hits against some non-CNS targets. The deal also gives Jnana a chance to expand beyond its early in-house focus on conditions including inflammatory bowel disease and start to explore the CNS potential of its platform.

Jnana sees Neurocrine as a good partner to support this expansion.

“Their deep knowledge in neuroscience and of the solute carrier family of transporters makes them an ideal partner as we work together to discover new medicines to treat CNS disorders," Jnana CSO Joel Barrish said in a statement.

Neurocrine built up its reputation in the CNS sector through the development of Ingrezza, a VMAT2 inhibitor that won FDA approval in the movement disorder tardive dyskinesia last year. Ingrezza is now closing in on another key moment. Having seen Ingrezza fall short in two Tourette syndrome trials, Neurocrine is approaching the readout from a potentially-pivotal phase 2b trial in the indication.