AstraZeneca deepens its Isis ties with a $65M R&D pact

Isis COO B. Lynne Parshall--Courtesy of Isis Pharmaceuticals

AstraZeneca ($AZN) is widening its long-standing relationship with Isis Pharmaceuticals ($ISIS), betting on the company's proprietary approach to RNA-targeted therapies in hopes of expanding its early-stage pipeline.

Under the agreement, AstraZeneca will hand over $65 million in cash for Isis' help discovering and developing so-called antisense drugs, which are lab-developed nucleic acids that can treat disease by modulating the body's production of certain proteins. The U.K. drugmaker will also pay its partner undisclosed development and regulatory milestones for any program that reaches clinical trials, promising Isis double-digit royalties if any candidate hits the market.

The pair's latest alliance will focus on cardiovascular, metabolic and renal diseases, the companies said, expanding upon years of work between the two. AstraZeneca and Isis first teamed up in 2012, striking a $31 million agreement centered on some antisense drugs for cancer. Two years later, AstraZeneca extended the partnership to cover cardiometabolic R&D, and the most recent deal adds renal disease to the collaboration.

AstraZeneca joins Biogen ($BIIB), Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) among major drug developers wagering that Isis' technology can produce marketable therapeutics. The company believes its RNA-targeting platform has wide applications in a host of diseases, and its clinical pipeline includes nearly 30 candidates, most of which are partnered.

And it's through such partnerships that Isis hopes to advance as many antisense projects as possible, Chief Operating Officer B. Lynne Parshall said. The company's many deals are part of a broad effort to bring in complementary expertise to move the pipeline forward, she said.

"AstraZeneca is committed to finding novel, best-in-class therapies for some of the largest, most complex and fastest growing disease segments in the developed world," Parshall said in a statement. "Combining our antisense technology with AstraZeneca's strong knowledge, leadership and commitment in these areas should be very valuable in fully exploiting these opportunities and moving new therapies effectively and efficiently toward the market."

- read the statement