Shire bags rights to autoimmune drug to target multibillion-dollar IVIg market

Shire CEO Flemming Ørnskov (Shire)

Shire has secured the rights to a preclinical autoimmune candidate from AB Biosciences. The asset is a recombinant protein designed to improve on existing intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) therapies.

In return for global rights to the program, Massachusetts-based AB Biosciences is picking up an upfront fee and putting itself in line to receive R&D and commercial milestones. Neither Shire nor AB Biosciences has disclosed financial details of the deal. As is typical for preclinical programs, the upfront component of the deal is likely to be fairly modest. Pfizer paid $25 million for a preclinical IVIg replacement in 2013.

Shire’s outlay gives it an asset designed to disrupt the multibillion-dollar IVIg market. IVIg therapies are produced by pooling immunoglobulins taken from the plasma of thousands of blood donors. This results in a therapy rich in immunoglobulin G antibodies that helps to fight infections, boost platelet and red blood cell counts and otherwise improve the function of the immune system. IVIg is used in the treatment of known and suspected autoimmune disorders including dermatomyositis and lupus. 

Doctors have used IVIg therapies for decades, and the routes of administration and production have been refined over that time. But the therapies are still challenging to make—as they require the safe sourcing of plasma from thousands of people—expensive to source and time-consuming to deliver. The U.K. healthcare service pays around $8,400 per dose of an IVIg therapy.   

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AB Biosciences thinks its approach is less logistically taxing. The biotech has engineered an oligomeric Fc protein to interact with all human Fcγ receptors. This pan receptor interacting molecule (PRIM) is designed to mimic the binding activity of immune complexes. If this results in PRIM having similar effects to IVIg, it could cut the need to source and screen plasma.

Shire and AB Biosciences hope PRIM can do more than just match IVIg, though. With early-stage data suggesting PRIM is biologically active at lower doses than IVIg, AB Biosciences thinks it may be possible to deliver it via alternate routes of administration. AB Biosciences said the candidate is more active in autoimmune and inflammatory models than existing IVIg therapies. 

That mix of potential advantages over IVIg drove Shire to make a deal.

“The novel design of this investigational antibody-derived recombinant protein therapeutic and promising biological activity demonstrated in preclinical models makes the PRIM program an exciting opportunity for Shire to further expand its leadership and commitment to treating patients with autoimmune disorders,” Shire CSO Andreas Busch, Ph.D., said in a statement.