AstraZeneca and Rigel strike asthma deal worth up to $100M

AstraZeneca revealed today a new partnership with Rigel Pharmaceuticals in another move by the London-based drug giant ($AZN) to plug holes in its pipeline. The deal hinges on Rigel's candidate known as R256, an inhalable JAK inhibitor under evaluation for treating tough cases of asthma.

In the heavily back-ended deal, AZ has agreed to pony up $1 million to start and committed $8.25 million in milestones that Rigel could secure within the first year and a half of the pact. The total milestone fees for the program, which is in preclinical development, could total $100 million. And Rigel is in line to get royalties on potential product sales. AstraZeneca is expected to run the first human studies of the candidate, which stymied IL-13 and IL-4 signaling in preclinical tests.

"We are pleased to be expanding our relationship with Rigel and to develop and commercialise this novel asset, R256," Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of Innovative Medicines at AstraZeneca, said in a statement. "Despite the number of medicines available to asthma patients today, there remains a need for more targeted therapies for moderate to severe chronic asthma. Through this agreement, R256 will benefit from the wealth of experience AstraZeneca has in bringing innovative treatments for respiratory diseases to millions of patients around the world."

To help revive an ailing pipeline, AstraZeneca has promised to reach for help from external collaborators such as South San Francisco-based Rigel--with which AZ is already partnering to develop Rigel's fostamatinib, an oral drug in Phase III trials for treating rheumatoid arthritis. And this latest deal indicates that AstraZeneca is looking at early-stage assets as part of the plan to solidify its future slate of products.

Clearly, preclinical assets won't address the drug giant's more immediate needs for new products. AstraZeneca scientific chief Martin Mackay has touted plans to do a series of bolt-on deals, and earlier this year the company shelled out $1.26 billion to buy Ardea and the biotech's late-stage drug for gout. And tensions in the R&D wing are running high after a series of setbacks in the pipeline in recent years. The failures led to the departure of ex-CEO David Brennan in April and the decision to bring in a new chairman, Leif Johansson.

- here's the release