AZ will start first-in-man studies and carry out clinical program for R256.

AstraZeneca is paying Rigel Pharmaceuticals $1 million up front for exclusive, worldwide rights to the latter’s inhaled JAK inhibitor R256, which is in preclinical development for the potential treatment of moderate-to-severe chronic asthma. AstraZeneca will start first-in-human clinical studies as well as design and conduct clinical development. The firm retains exclusive global commercialization rights to R256.

The total value of the deal, including development, regulatory, and commercialization payments to Rigel, could reach $100 million. The firm says preclinical studies have shown that that R256 inhibits IL-13 and IL-4 signaling at the primary cellular level, reducing the severity of inflammation and improving lung function.

AstraZeneca is also Rigel’s global licensee for its lead oral syk inhibitor fostamatinib (previously R788), which is in Phase III development as a treatment for RA. The Phase III program, Oskira, enrolled its first patient in 2010 and is evaluating fostamatinib in patients who don’t adequately respond to current RA therapies including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and parenteral anti-TNF.

Rigel is focused on the development of small molecule drugs for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases as well as muscle disorders. The firm’s Phase I pipeline includes the inhaled syk inhibitor asthma candidate R343, a topical JAK/SYK inhibitor R333 for the treatment of discoid lupus, and an oral JAK3 inhibitor R548 for potential applications against transplant rejection and other immune disorders. Earlier-stage compounds are separately in development in fields including dry eye syndrome, muscular atrophy, and muscle metabolism.

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