Astellas bets on Immunomic's allergy vaccine in a $75M deal

Astellas Pharma is teaming up with biotech Immunomic Therapeutics on a vaccine that could relieve a common allergy that affects millions in its native Japan.

Immunomic's candidate is designed to treat allergies induced by Japanese red cedar, a pervasive tree in the country. Astellas has stepped in with $15 million up front and the promise of another $55 million in milestones to acquire the Japanese rights to the candidate, agreeing to pay its way through clinical development. Immunomic is in line for double-digit royalties if the vaccine makes it to market, and Astellas has also secured an exclusive option to license some of the biotech's other candidates, which use the same technology.

Immunomic's platform works by attaching antigens to lysosomal-associated membrane proteins, or LAMPs. Those proteins function as a sort of expressway to the immune system, educating the body on how to endure exposure to the target allergens, Immunomic said.

Immunomic CEO William Hearl

The company's Japanese red cedar vaccine, called JRC-LAMP-vax, came about in a confluence of clinical promise, medical need and market opportunity, Immunomic CEO William Hearl said. More than 60 years ago, in an effort to reforest the nation, Japan's interior ministry planted millions of red cedars unaware that the trees are prolific producers of pollen, Hearl said. Over the ensuing decades, the red cedars spurred huge pollen clouds that eventually descended on urban Japan, leading to widespread hay fever every allergy season.

Immunomic, recognizing the potential of its platform in Japanese red cedar allergy, developed JRC-LAMP-vax and ran a Phase I trial to confirm its promise. With data in hand, the biotech headed for Japan and met with 11 of the nation's drugmakers, Hearl said. Astellas, with its experience in DNA vaccines and R&D pedigree, eventually won out, he said. Now the pair plan to redo JRC-LAMP-vax's Phase I in Japan come April and roll the injection into Phase II shortly thereafter, Hearl said.

On the whole, the Astellas deal is a major affirmation of the potential for LAMP-powered vaccines, Hearl said.

"We're excited about the opportunity that we've had a major pharma do a very thorough and aggressive due diligence process on our technology and on our clinical data and all our preclinical studies," Hearl said. "It's going to serve as a model for how we want to look at building out, say, our food allergy model going forward."

Beyond its lead candidate, Immunomic is running clinical trials on therapy for mountain cedar allergies and gearing up for Phase I with a peanut allergy vaccine.

- read the statement