Shire snaps up CNS program from startup Heptares, commits $190M in 'biobucks'

Heptares Therapeutics has revealed another major tie-up with a big drugmaker. A unit of Ireland-based Shire ($SHPGY) has exercised an option to grab global rights to Heptares' preclinical compound that targets a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) known as adenosine A2A for treating CNS disorders. Heptares said that it could reap up to $190 million in milestones in the deal.

Shire, whose top specialty area is in CNS, has exclusive global development and commercial dibs on the program for A2A antagonists from Heptares, which is pocketing an undisclosed upfront option grant and exercise payments. On top of the $190 million in potential milestones, Hepartes is also eligible for royalties on any products stemming from the program. The companies didn't disclose the specific CNS disorders that Shire aims to pursue with Heptares' drugs.

Based on the strength of its GPCR-targeted drug discovery platform, venture-backed Heptares (a 2009 Fierce 15 company) has now struck R&D deals with Shire, Takeda Pharmaceutical, AstraZeneca ($AZN), MedImmune and Novartis Option Fund, according to the company. Indeed, GPCRs are among the most popular targets in the pharmaceutical industry, yet some of the receptors have eluded previous efforts to drug them, and Welwyn Garden City, U.K.-based Heptares says that its structure-based drug design approach enables it to discover molecules that can home in on such intractable targets.

"The exercise of this option and initiation of the worldwide licensing agreement with Shire, one of the world's leading CNS specialty pharmaceutical companies, is an outstanding achievement for Heptares," Malcolm Weir, Heptares' CEO, said in a statement. "The A2A program is the most advanced example of the Heptares drug discovery platform, and highlights our ability to deliver fundamentally novel chemotypes as a basis for first-in-class and best-in-class medicines addressing a broad range of diseases."

Heptares has now hauled in a total of $40 million in venture cash from a lineup of VC backers that includes MVM Life Science Partners, Clarus Ventures, Novartis Venture Fund and Takeda Ventures.

- here's the release

Special Report: Heptares Therapeutics - 2009 Fierce 15