Astellas Pharma and Anokion said today they will collaborate on research aimed at developing new treatments for type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, and possibly a third indication, in a deal that could generate $760 million for Anokion.

The partners agreed to create a new company, Kanyos Bio, to develop clinical candidates in type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, with Astellas holding an option to add a third autoimmune indication as part of the collaboration.

Kanyos would be based in Cambridge, MA, and be funded through a $16 million equity financing by Astellas along with Anokion’s existing investors, the companies said. Those investors include Versant Ventures, Novo Ventures, Novartis Venture Fund, and an unnamed group of individual investors.

In addition, Astellas agreed to provide non-dilutive research funding to Kanyos, and holds an option to acquire Kanyos after achieving unspecified milestones.

According to Astellas and Anokion, the creation of Kanyos will enable preclinical development of products through a collaboration intended to combine Astellas’ resources and drug development expertise with Anokion’s technology for the induction of antigen-specific immune tolerance. The technology is designed to target antigens to the surfaces of red blood cells in vivo. As the cells circulate, age and are cleared, the associated antigens are processed using the immune system’s natural mechanisms to prevent autoimmunity.

Anokion intends to apply its technology toward reducing the immunogenicity of therapeutic proteins and treating autoimmune and allergic diseases. The technology has shown the ability to induce immune tolerance to protein drugs and to autoimmune antigens in animal models, the partners said. Anokion is a spinout from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

“This collaboration is the newest piece of Astellas’ strategy in immunology,” Kenji Yasukawa, Ph.D., svp and chief strategy officer of Astellas. “Our goal is to provide innovative pharmaceutical products for type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, both of which represent significant unmet medical needs. In addition to the above mentioned initial targets, it is considered that the technology can be applied to other autoimmune diseases. In this sense, there is meaningful potential for future growth.”

Immunology is one of seven therapeutic areas of focus identified by Astellas on its website; the other six are cardiology, dermatology, infectious disease, neuroscience, oncology, and urology. In the U.S., Astellas’ immunology products include:

  • Astagraf XL™ (tacrolimus extended-release capsules), indicated for protection from organ rejection in patients receiving a kidney transplant with mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) and corticosteroids, with or without basiliximab induction;
  • Prograf (tacrolimus) capsules and injection, indicated for protection from organ rejection in patients receiving allogeneic liver, kidney or heart transplants. Prograf is to be used concomitantly with adrenal corticosteroids; and in conjunction with azathioprine or MMF in kidney and heart transplant.
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