Tiziana plots NASH combo after buying Novimmune asset

Tiziana Life Sciences has licensed an anti-interleukin-6 receptor (IL-6R) drug from Novimmune. The British biotech sees the monoclonal antibody as complementary to foralumab, a NASH candidate it picked up from Novimmune two years ago.

By once again turning to Novimmune for a candidate to expand its pipeline, Tiziana has gained a discovery-stage asset with the potential to bolster its autommine and anti-inflammatory activities. Tiziana thinks the drug—NI-1201—can best rival products by binding to both membrane-bound and soluble IL-6R. Roche’s rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra only binds to membrane-bound IL-6R.

As importantly, Tiziana and its advisers think NI-1201 can unlock the potential of another of its pipeline prospects, anti-CD3 mAb foralumab.

“A fully human anti-IL-6R mAb perfectly complements foralumab, the Company’s fully human oral anti-CD3 mAb which is being explored for treatment of NASH and type 2 diabetes. It is known that dampening inflammatory signals driven by IL-6 enhances the induction of the regulatory mechanism induced by anti-CD3 mAbs,” Howard Weiner, a member of Tiziana’s scientific advisory board and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Tiziana designated foralumab as its lead candidate upon acquiring the asset late in 2014 on the basis of phase 1/2 Crohn’s disease and kidney transplantation data generated by Novimmune. Since then researchers have generated little fresh clinical data on foralumab, although that is set to change as the drug edges toward trials in indications including NASH.

Researchers at Tiziana will work to advance NI-1201 in parallel to foralumab to lay the groundwork for a possible two-pronged attack on NASH. Tiziana may need the uptick in efficacy promised by the combination if it is to succeed in a fiercely-fought niche in which it trails better-resourced rivals. 

Tiziana is paying an upfront fee of undisclosed size, as well as committing to milestones and royalties, to add the program to its pipeline.

In the near term, the deal is unlikely to make a big difference to the bank balance of Novimmune, a Swiss biotech that has tapped investors for close to $300 million to date and has talked up the prospect of adding more through an IPO.