Astellas sinks deeper roots into Cambridge's hot R&D field with $1.2B pact

Kenji Yasukawa, Astellas chief strategy officer

In a new attempt to spark some fresh R&D mojo, the Japanese pharma company Astellas has struck a pair of discovery pacts aimed at adding some new therapies to its pipeline. And in the process it's building a growing research network in the thriving biotech hub found in Cambridge, MA.

Just weeks ago Astellas joined the migration into gene therapy by teaming up with Harvard's Constance Cepko on a new program for a degenerative eye disease. Today it struck a formal relationship with two more players in Cambridge, MA--inking a deal with Proteostasis Therapeutics that could be worth up to $1.2 billion while getting Dana-Farber investigators to help hunt down new cancer drugs that can inhibit K-Ras.

These new moves come more than a year after Astellas shook up its R&D operations, closing facilities in the U.S. as it looked to focus more on partnerships. In addition to its recent pacts in the U.S., Astellas has also forged new ties with Cancer Research UK.

The Proteostasis deal is once again focused on a genetic disease, though this time the target is undisclosed. The biotech will go to work using its experience with unfolded proteins, doing preclinical drug screening work that can be applied to genetic diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and retinal degenerative diseases. Proteostasis gets an undisclosed upfront--typically relatively small in discovery deals--and up to $400 million for the first program, with a potential for adding two more programs with the same general terms.

Proteostasis is a private company which has been building up some high-profile relationships of its own. Biogen Idec ($BIIB) struck a collaboration deal with the biotech late last year. The company filed an updated Form D a few weeks ago outlining a $5 million raise, which is part of a $10 million offering, according to documents filed with the SEC.

At the same time that Proteostasis is working on genetic diseases, Harvard's Nathanael Gray will head a Dana-Farber team that will search for new drugs that can hit K-Ras, a prime target for lung and pancreatic cancers, among others. Gray recently published the results of his work in the K-Ras field.

"We are pursuing open innovation in drug discovery and are looking for new drug discovery opportunities that satisfy unmet medical needs through collaboration with external partners," said Kenji Yasukawa, the chief strategy officer at Astellas Pharma, in a release. "This collaboration with Dana-Farber perfectly illustrates this strategy and it is our hope that this collaboration to advance drug discovery will bring innovative cancer treatments to patients around the world."

- here's the release on the Proteostasis deal
- here's the release on Dana-Farber

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