In an initiative to combat autoimmune diseases and cancer, Scholar Rock inked a research collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation and its affiliate Janssen Biotech to discover and develop biologic therapeutics that regulate signaling in the immune system by targeting the growth factor, TGF-beta 1.

The focus of the collaboration will be on the discovery and development of biologics, which Scholar Rock calls “niche” activators, to target TGF-beta 1 in the immune system microenvironment and offer a potential new therapeutic approach for autoimmune diseases and cancer immunotherapies.

“Although TGF-beta 1 has been actively pursued as a drug target, most current approaches encounter challenges in triggering systemic effects,” said Nagesh Mahanthappa, Ph.D., CEO of Scholar Rock. “Our technology is designed to take a new approach by targeting TGF-beta 1 niche activators locally.”

Immunologists from the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center and Janssen Biotech will work with Scholar Rock to therapeutically target the TGF-beta 1 activation mechanism by applying Scholar Rock’s technology platform.

According to Scholar Rock, the technology allows for the design of niche activators with the potential to selectively inhibit growth factors in diseases caused by inappropriate signaling and also selectively activate growth factors in diseases caused by a deficiency in signaling. This platform builds upon the recent discoveries of its co-founder Timothy A. Springer, Ph.D., who is also Latham Family Professor at Harvard Medical School. His discoveries have elucidated molecular mechanisms of growth factor activation in tissue microenvironments, the company said.

“This collaboration exploits new understanding of growth factor biology in the microenvironment in order to create novel therapeutics with the potential to maximize action at the site of disease, and offer a new approach for debilitating diseases with limited treatment options,” said Dr. Springer.

As part of the agreement, Janssen Biotech obtains a worldwide exclusive option to license, develop, and commercialize biologic therapeutics resulting from the alliance. Scholar Rock will receive research support and is eligible to receive option payments, preclinical, clinical, and regulatory milestone payments. Additionally, the company may receive royalties and commercial milestones on product sales for each product advanced.

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