GlaxoSmithKline cozies up to Five Prime for respiratory R&D

Aron Knickerbocker, Five Prime chief business officer

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), facing widespread scrutiny for its underperforming respiratory business, has expanded its relationship with Five Prime Therapeutics ($FPRX), digging in to discover new treatments in the field.

The latest agreement builds off of a 2012 tie-up between the two, under which the partners are working on therapies for refractory asthma and COPD. In April, GSK widened the deal to include two more discovery programs, and its latest move promises another 18 months of work on the project.

That spells another $2 million in research funding for Five Prime, which is due up to $193.8 million if GSK takes the plunge on any of the candidates discovered through the collaboration.

"GSK's decision to expand our collaboration speaks to the strength and versatility of our protein discovery platform to identify novel targets in a wide range of major respiratory diseases," Five Prime Chief Business Officer Aron Knickerbocker said in a statement. "GSK is the leader in the discovery, development and commercialization of drugs for respiratory diseases and thus they are an ideal partner to have in this area of research."

That leadership has come under fire of late, however, as GSK's respiratory business has consistently disappointed analysts, with sales slipping another 18% last quarter. Advair, long the drugmaker's cash cow in the field, is finally facing generic competition, and the potential blockbusters expected to usurp it, Breo and Anoro Ellipta, have lagged expectations since winning FDA approvals last year.

But GSK remains confident in both its marketed therapies and its respiratory pipeline. The company is working with longtime partner Theravance ($THRX) to study a new treatment that pools the active ingredients in Anoro and Breo to create a triple-threat solution for COPD. The pair plans to enroll 10,000 patients in a Phase III trial to see if the new drug can beat out its parts on their own. The two companies are also developing a bifunctional muscarinic antagonist-beta agonist that has shown promise in midstage trials.

- read the statement