Roche pays €380M for NLRP3 biotech Inflazome, claiming a leading position in hot field 

Roche has bought Inflazome for €380 million ($451 million) upfront to gain control of treatments for inflammatory diseases. The deal gives Roche full rights to a pipeline of oral NLRP3 inhibitors led by two clinical-phase drugs Inflazome is developing as treatments for Parkinson’s and other diseases.

Inflazome put itself on the map in 2016 when it raised $17 million in a series A round co-led by the VC wing of Novartis. Interest in the biotech was underpinned by the work of its scientific founders to block signals from inflammasomes, a group of proteins that activate inflammatory responses. When functioning as intended, the inflammation helps fight off infections. However, if immune cells are overstimulated, inflammasomes can trigger excessive inflammatory responses.

If Inflazome is right, it can stop excessive responses—while preserving beneficial inflammation—by drugging NLRP3. Intracellular sensor NLRP3 is involved in the detection of changes that warrant an inflammatory reaction and the release of proinflammatory cytokines in response to them. 

Roche has seen enough promise in the idea to pay €380 million upfront and commit to undisclosed milestones to buy Inflazome. Inzomelid is the most advanced asset covered by the acquisition.

Inflazome posted clinical data on brain-penetrant NLRP3 inhibitor inzomelid in healthy volunteers and a patient with cryopyrin-associated periodic syndromes (CAPS) in March. According to Inflazome, the patient with CAPS, an umbrella term for three autoinflammatory diseases driven by NLRP3 defects, “showed rapid clinical improvement within hours and remission within days” of treatment. The data encouraged Inflazome to outline plans to move into phase 2 by the end of the year.

CAPS could serve as a proving ground for inzomelid, but Inflazome’s ambition for the asset extends far beyond the rare hereditary disorder. Inflazome sees inzomelid as a potential disease-modifying for Parkinson’s and thinks brain-penetrant NLRP3 inhibitors have a role to play in Alzheimer's. The goal is to stop the neuroinflammation thought to drive outcomes such as neuronal death in the diseases. 

Inflazome has developed another NLRP3 inhibitor, somalix, to treat diseases in other parts of the body. The biotech presented phase 1 data on that peripherally restricted NLRP3 inhibitor in February, leading it to target a 2020 start date for a phase 2 trial. 

As a peripherally restricted molecule, somalix is part of Inflazome’s plans to treat diseases outside of the CNS. Inflazome has identified refractory gout, cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis as target therapeutic areas, reflecting evidence of the role NLRP3 plays in the conditions and the unmet need. However, Roche, a far larger, better-resourced company, could theoretically significantly expand the breadth of the NLRP3 work.

The target is implicated in conditions including diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases and multiple sclerosis, as well as the six therapeutic areas targeted by Inflazome. Success in any one of the areas could enable Roche to realize a return on the Inflazome acquisition. 

Other companies are also working to realize the opportunities presented by NLRP3. Roche subsidiary Genentech bought Jecure Therapeutics for its NLRP3 inhibitors in 2018. Either side of that deal, IFM Therapeutics sold subsidiaries with NLRP3 assets to Bristol Myers Squibb and Novartis. Biotechs such as NodThera, Olatec Therapeutics and ZyVersa Therapeutics are also active in the area. 

Inflazome released news of its takeover by Roche on the same day that Scenic Biotech disclosed that it has entered into a collaboration with Genentech. The collaboration will see Genentech work with the Dutch biotech on drugs that target genetic modifiers.