Boehringer Ingelheim will partner with Topas Therapeutics to develop virus-based vectors designed to deliver therapeutics, in the initial phase of a broader collaboration aimed at tackling antidrug antibodies (ADAs) by focusing on antigen-specific tolerance induction.

Under a multiyear collaboration and option agreement whose value was not disclosed, Topas agreed to oversee the design, application, and production of its proprietary tolerizing particles while Boehringer Ingelheim agreed to contribute its expertise in antigens and pharmacology to develop tolerance-generating adjuvant candidates using Topas’ technology platform.

Topas said the platform would be used toward preventing the immune reaction that would prohibit repeated administration of cancer treatments, such as oncolytic viruses and delivery vectors for cancer vaccines.

Topas’ platform is designed to induce antigen-specific immune tolerance by harnessing the liver’s natural immunology capabilities. Through the platform, peptide-loaded nanoparticles are selectively targeted toward liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs), where tolerance against bloodborne antigens is induced by the generation of peptide-specific regulatory T cells.

Boehringer Ingelheim has an option to license “several” preclinical development candidates produced under the collaboration for development and commercialization, Topas said.

“This collaboration supports the value and broad applicability of our tolerance induction approach, now comprising the increasingly significant field of novel therapeutics and their precise delivery,” Topas CEO Timm Jessen, Ph.D., said in a statement.

$4.9M Investment

Last year, Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (BIVF) invested €4 million ($4.9 million) as part of an €18 million ($22 million) Series A financing completed in November 2017, designed to accelerate Topas’ preparation and launch of clinical trials for autoimmune programs derived from its platform. In return, Detlev Mennerich, Ph.D., investment manager at BIVF, joined Topas’ board.

Also in 2017, Topas inked a multiyear research and option agreement with Eli Lilly, which agreed to use Topas’ platform to develop new treatments, with an initial focus on external antigens believed to induce inflammation and/or autoimmune disease.

The value of the Topas–Lilly partnership was not disclosed. Under their agreement, Lilly has an option for all candidates produced under the collaboration for in-licensing and further development. In return, Topas will receive from Lilly R&D funding and payments tied to unspecified “future success” of compounds to be in-licensed by Lilly.

Topas also has a co-development agreement with Evotec for a type 1 diabetes program that is currently in preclinical testing.

Topas’ pipeline consists of preclinical programs targeting multiple sclerosis (MS), an unspecified orphan disease, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and adenosine deaminase-1 (ADA-1). Furthest along is the company’s pre-Investigational New Drug (IND) MS program, which has generated early results showing that, in an autoimmune encephalomyelitis model, all mice were fully protected from developing MS by a one-time injection of an MS-relevant nanoparticle comjugate.

Based in Hamburg, Germany, Topas was spun out of Evotec in 2016 to develop nanoparticle-based therapeutics for immunological disorders. Evotec joined Epidarex Capital, EMBL Ventures, and Gimv in raising the initial €14 million ($17.1 million) in Series A financing, before Boehringer joined those investors.

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