Takeda bags mRNA translation modulators in $120M Anima deal

Takeda has teamed up with Anima Biotech to discover mRNA translation modulators. The Japanese drugmaker is set to pay up to $120 million in upfront fees and preclinical research milestones to work with Anima on the treatments for genetically defined neurological diseases.

Eli Lilly helped put Anima on the map in 2018 when it paid $30 million and committed to more than $1 billion in milestones to collaborate with the biotech on molecules that inhibit the translation of several target proteins. Anima landed the deals on the strength of the potential of its platform to access biology driven by proteins that lack accessible binding sites.

Rather than try to target a protein itself, Anima seeks to identify small molecules that dial production of the target up or down. In theory, such small molecules could selectively control mRNA translation and, in doing so, act on proteins that are currently undruggable when targeted directly.

Anima has used the platform to establish an early Huntington’s disease program against HTT. Takeda has secured exclusive rights to the asset, plus programs against two other targets, for $120 million in upfront fees and preclinical research milestones and up to $1.1 billion in clinical and commercial paydays.

The validated role of mutated HTT in Huntington's, coupled with difficulties drugging it by conventional means, has made the protein a recurring target among groups with novel ways of accessing biology. Arvinas is exploring the application of its protein degradation technology to the target, and Roche is working with Ionis Pharmaceuticals on an antisense-based approach to reducing its production.

Takeda added antisense treatments for Huntington's to its pipeline in 2018 through a deal with Wave Life Sciences that was worth $110 million upfront. The Wave-partnered assets are in phase 1/2, and one of them has already been found to reduce the disease-causing mutant HTT protein, but Takeda still saw value in snapping up Anima’s preclinical program.

The Anima agreement comes in a month that has been heavy on deals even by the standards of Takeda’s active business development group. Earlier this month, Takeda agreed to pay $196 million to regain the rights to an epilepsy drug from Ovid and struck a $525 million takeover of T-cell engager biotech Maverick Therapeutics. The maximum size of the Anima deal could swell to more than $2 billion if Takeda takes up its option to go after three more targets.