Ionis Pharmaceuticals said today it has earned a $28 million milestone payment from AstraZeneca after the pharma giant completed IND-supporting studies and licensing of an anticancer compound.

IONIS-KRAS-2.5Rx, also called AZD4785, is an Ionis-discovered Generation 2.5 antisense drug designed to target KRAS directly. According to Ionis, IONIS-KRAS-2.5Rx will be the first drug to enter clinical development that directly targets KRAS, regardless of mutation type.

AstraZeneca will oversee further development and commercialization of IONIS-KRAS-2.5Rx, Ionis said.

Ionis is eligible to receive up to $137 million for additional development and regulatory milestone payments—as well as up to low double-digit royalties on sales of IONIS-KRAS-2.5Rx.

“We and AstraZeneca are uniquely positioned to advance the first antisense drug in development to target KRAS, as this is a very challenging target to engage with other therapeutic modalities,” Brett Monia, Ph.D., svp of drug discovery at Ionis, said in a statement.

With the latest milestone payment, Ionis has received more than $85 million from AstraZeneca since the companies launched their oncology-focused research collaboration in 2012. The partnership is designed to combine AstraZeneca's experience and expertise in developing anticancer agents with Ionis' antisense technology platform to broaden Ionis' cancer franchise.

As part of the oncology collaboration, AstraZeneca is also evaluating another cancer-fighting candidate, AZD9150 (IONIS-STAT3-2.5Rx), in combination with durvalumab, AstraZeneca's anti-PD-L1, or anti-programmed death-ligand 1, antibody candidate, in patients with head and neck cancer and in patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. The candidate is an antisense drug designed to reduce the production of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) for the treatment of patients with cancer.

The companies have also formed a strategic collaboration to discover and develop antisense therapies for treating cardiovascular, metabolic and renal diseases, Ionis said.

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