Bristol-Myers Squibb signed an exclusive option to acquire Galecto Biotech and gain worldwide rights to its lead asset TD139, a Phase I inhaled inhibitor of galectin-3 being developed to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and other pulmonary fibrotic conditions. The deal was valued at up to $444 million, a sum that includes an option fee, an option exercise fee, and subsequent payments tied to clinical and regulatory milestones.

Under terms of their agreement, Bristol-Myers Squibb can exercise the option to acquire Galecto at any time following the execution of the transaction agreement but no later than 60 days following completion of a Phase Ib trial. The companies have agreed on preclinical studies and a Phase I development plan that will be carried out by Galecto during the option period.

“We have confirmed the anti-fibrotic activity of our lead compound, TD139, in several preclinical models and now have taken the compound into clinical testing in healthy volunteers followed by patient studies in early 2015,” Hans Schambye, M.D., Ph.D, Galecto’s CEO, said in a statement.

Galectin-3 is a protein that binds to carbohydrate structures in the body, and plays a central role in various types of fibrosis. The companies reason that galectin-3 inhibitors may be able to treat diseases that exhibit galectin-3 expression, such as IPF, through their capability of targeting and inhibiting the protein’s binding ability. TD139 is designed to be a highly potent, specific inhibitor of the galactoside-binding pocket of galectin-3 that enables direct targeting of the fibrotic tissue in the lungs through its inhalation formulation, while minimizing systemic exposure.

TD139 complements BMS’ early-stage fibrosis portfolio, which includes BMS-986020, a lysophosphatidic acid 1 (LPA1) receptor antagonist being developed to treat IPF. BMS’ pipeline web page, last updated July 10, includes an unnamed “LPA1 antagonist” small-molecule indicated for “fibrotic diseases” and said to be in Phase II development.

“TD139 provides Bristol-Myers Squibb an opportunity to advance the company’s fibrosis development program with the addition of a promising compound that has the potential to modulate multiple disease pathways,” added Francis Cuss, evp and CSO at BMS.

Headquartered in Copenhagen, Galecto is funded by two biopharma venture entities—Novo Seeds, a joint initiative between the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Novo A/S; MS Ventures, the strategic, corporate venture arm of the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA—as well as Sunstone Capital and SEED Capital.

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