$400M buyout deal puts Heptares' GPCR pipeline in Sosei's hands

An expansive-minded Sosei has swooped in to buy Heptares Therapeutics, a U.K.-based biotech that's been at work building a pipeline of G protein-coupled receptor-targeted drugs with a slate of some of the world's biggest pharma partners. Sosei is paying $180 million in cash and offering up to $220 million in milestones. And rather than absorbing the tech, the Heptares group will now continue its efforts as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese company.

Heptares picked up a Fierce 15 award back in 2007 as it was settling in to work on preclinical GPCR programs. Since then the biotech has inked pacts with AstraZeneca ($AZN) and MedImmune; Cubist, which was acquired by Merck ($MRK); Takeda Pharmaceutical; MorphoSys and Novartis ($NVS). Those partnerships provided some key financing for the company, which raised a $21 million B round back in 2013.

The company got started with technology from Richard Henderson and Christopher Tate at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, building a structure-based drug design platform dubbed StaR. Just weeks ago the company touted a big advance in their collaboration with AstraZeneca, noting that researchers had used their knowledge of GPCRs to find molecules that could block PAR2, a GPCR which is activated by cleavage with a protease enzyme. It's a target for pain and inflammation.

GPCRs represent a big target in drug development, accounting for dozens of top-selling drugs. Heptares has been using its tech to come up with improved and stabilized drugs for some of these targets.

Heptares has one clinical-stage asset in its pipeline, a muscarinic M1 receptor agonist. That's been the subject of considerable preclinical work in the field, with some suggestions in animal studies that it has an impact on amyloid beta and other key culprits in the disease, positively influencing cognition and behavior.

"While core to our future, an independent subsidiary structure will ensure Heptares is able to maintain the culture and business model that has been the foundation of its success so far," says Sosei CEO Shinichi Tamura. Heptares CEO Malcolm Weir will stay in charge of the unit.

MVM Life Science Partners got the company started and then continued to offer financing with a syndicate that includes Clarus Ventures, Novartis Venture Fund, Takeda Ventures and the Stanley Family Foundation.

Special Report: Heptares Therapeutics - 2009 Fierce 15

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