Takeda taps brain-focused Cerevance in quest for new GI targets

Nerve cells
Takeda approached Cerevance because it knew of some cell types found in the brain that could play a role in the development of gastrointestinal diseases. The duo will use the latter's technology to select and validate targets for new medicines for GI disease. (Pixabay)

Three years after Takeda chipped into Cerevance’s series A, the Big Pharma has come back for more. The duo is inking a research deal focused on identifying new protein targets in the central nervous system to develop new treatments for gastrointestinal disorders. The companies kept details close to the vest but said Cerevance could net more than $170 million in milestones per target. 

Under the deal, Cerevance will pick up an undisclosed amount in an upfront fee and research support payments. It could also pick up royalties and development, commercialization and sales milestones. Cerevance CEO Brad Margus told FierceBiotech he anticipated Takeda would move multiple targets forward but that the companies are “sworn to secrecy” on the exact number. 

The pair will use Cerevance’s NETSseq platform to select, confirm and validate targets for “certain gastrointestinal disorders.” The technology is Cerevance’s solution to carry out target discovery in human tissue so it doesn’t need to worry about translating findings from lab dishes and animal studies to people. It studies tissue donated to brain banks around the world by healthy people as well as from people who suffered from central nervous system disorders such as Huntington, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. 

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“[The technology] lets us sort specific neuronal or glial cell types in the brain and it can be scaled to a big level,” Margus said. “It allows us to pull out all the RNA expressed by each cell type and do deep sequencing so we can see every gene that’s turned on or off in that cell. We’re able to pick up subtle expression patterns, signatures in different diseases.” 

It finds genes that may be overlooked using other techniques and allows the company to selectively target proteins that are expressed only in certain kinds of cells. 

“There is a big belief that neuroinflammation doesn’t cause neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but it can make them worse. If you could somehow dampen that, it could be somehow therapeutic,” Margus said. Blocking inflammation in general is bad news for the body, so the approach needs to target proteins that are selectively expressed in the brain, he said. 

RELATED: Takeda and Lightstone join forces to fund and launch neuroscience upstart 

Takeda came knocking because it knew of some cell types found in the brain that could play a role in the development of GI diseases. 

“They wanted to identify targets that are selectively expressed in those cell populations,” Margus said. 

Takeda may be Cerevance’s first partner, but it won’t be its last. After focusing on its own pipeline for a few years, Cerevance started casting the net for partners so it could apply its technology to other areas. The Japanese Pharma was a natural fit because of how well the teams knew each other. Back in 2016, Takeda contributed more than just capital to Cerevance: It licensed a clutch of CNS programs to the biotech and gave it a 25-person neuroscience research team from the site it closed in Cambridge, U.K.

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