Takeda bets $500M on a freshly unstealthed biotech

Japanese pharma giant Takeda is promising as much as $500 million to a previously under-wraps biotech company with some early-stage drugs that could provide a more tolerable alternative to steroid treatments.

Gencia, headquartered in Charlottesville, VA, has emerged from stealth mode with a Big Pharma collaboration, planning to work alongside Takeda on a pair of preclinical programs focused respectively on inflammation and oncology. Under the agreement, the pair will jointly select two final candidates, with Takeda holding the exclusive right to advance each into clinical trials and through the development process. Gencia is due an undisclosed upfront sum plus milestone payments along the way, all totaling a maximum of $500 million, the company said.

At the heart of the deal are Gencia's small-molecule mitochondrial agonists of the glucocorticoid receptor, or MAGRs. Standard glucocorticoid drugs--steroids--can be effective in hematological and inflammatory diseases, but serious side effects can limit use, Gencia said, and patients often develop a resistance that eventually renders the treatments useless. MAGR therapies, chemically distinct from steroids, have the potential to take their place without the attendant baggage, according to Gencia.

Founded in 2010, Gencia has built a discovery platform based on mitochondrial biology, crafting candidates designed to harness the power of cellular energy to treat disease. When Takeda took an interest in MAGR, the biotech's most advanced program, the company jumped at the chance to tap a partner with history and expertise in oncology and immunology, Gencia CEO Allen Cunningham said.

"From the outset, they shared a vision for the MAGR program and its potential to change the paradigm," Cunningham said. "We both share that vision, and they appreciated the novelty of our approach."

Beyond its lead assets, Gencia is at work on discovery-stage mitochondrial therapies with broad applications in neurodegeneration, cardiovascular disease and other areas, Cunningham said. With its first partnership now in place, Gencia plans to keep up the pace of drug discovery, advancing new candidates with an eye on more dealmaking with pharma, he said.

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