Takeda taps Texas startup for 'double whammy' cancer immunotherapies

Austin, Texas-based startup Shattuck Labs is less than a year old but has already bagged its first big pharma partner with Japan's Takeda buying into its immuno-oncology platform.

The new collaboration will harness Shattuck's proprietary technology platform, which it says can create single molecules that not only block immune checkpoints like PD-1/PD-L1 to remove a brake on the immune system, but also simultaneously encourage T-cells to attack malignant cells.

The result is "combination immunotherapy with a single product," according to Shattuck, and the hypothesis has proved sufficiently compelling to Takeda to encourage the Japanese firm to take options on up to four molecules based on the Agonist Redirected Checkpoint (ARC) technology.

The collaboration will include two preclinical and four discovery-stage programs, with Takeda and its Millennium biologics subsidiary providing funding for preclinical and clinical development of candidates it decides to take forward. No financial terms of the deal are being disclosed.

Shattuck was co-founded last year by CEO, President and Chairman Josiah Hornblower—who also co-founded and was formerly CEO at Pelican Therapeutics—and chief scientific officer Taylor Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., who formerly held the same position at Heat Biologics.

The pattern of buying into super-early projects is a familiar one to Takeda observers over the past couple of years, with a string of deals with small, emerging biotechs both in cancer and other sectors—such as cardiovascular conditions—under the management of CEO Christophe Weber and chief medical and scientific officer Andy Plump.

Takeda's M&A war chest is said to be worth billions for these sorts of deals, and cancer-focused projects feature prominently among them. The Shattuck deal is the second for the company in just over a week, after it signed a deal with Molecular Templates to develop engineered toxin bodies for cancer.

So far this year, Takeda has also forged cancer alliances with Nektar, GammaDelta and Maverick and signed several other deals in non-cancer categories.

Commenting on the latest deal, Takeda's head of oncology and immunology drug discovery, Christopher Arendt, Ph. D., said: "we are excited about the opportunity this collaboration presents to develop groundbreaking, next-generation immuno-oncology treatments."

"Research partnerships are a key aspect of our continued dedication to oncology innovation, and this collaboration will bring us closer to our goal of discovering, developing and delivering breakthrough oncology therapies," Arendt said.