Ensemble Therapeutics said today it has launched a pair of R&D collaborations with Novartis based on the pharma giant’s licensing of the biotech’s class of IL-17 antagonists.

One collaboration is based on antagonists of the inflammatory cytokine implicated in multiple inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The other will apply Ensemble’s drug discovery platforms to discover new small molecule treatments against undisclosed Novartis-specified drug targets.

Under their global strategic collaboration, Ensemble will receive an undisclosed up-front payment from Novartis, and will be eligible for potential payments tied to development and sales milestones. Ensemble will also receive research funding from Novartis, as well as tiered royalties on potential future sales of products that may result from the collaboration.

Ensemble reasons that an orally active inhibitor would complement current clinical-stage anti-IL-17 antibody products that have shown effectiveness in multiple human clinical trials involving various inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The protein–protein nature of interaction of IL-17 with its receptor has complicated the design of traditional small molecule pharmaceutical inhibitors, a hurdle addressed to date by injectable protein therapeutics directed to the ligand, such as Novartis’s secukinumab, which met its endpoints against psoriasis in a Phase III trial. Such injectable candidates have also been developed by Amgen and Eli Lilly.

According to Ensemble, its antagonists represent potential first-in-class, orally active, small molecule inhibitors of the inflammatory cytokine.

“Novartis has recognized the strength of Ensemble’s orally bioavailable drug candidates against this difficult-to-drug protein–protein interaction target, and we believe Novartis is the best-suited pharmaceutical company to partner with us to rapidly develop and market important new medicines for the treatment of IL-17-mediated disease,” Ensemble CEO Michael D. Taylor, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Novartis joins several pharma and biotech giants in launching research alliances with Ensemble aimed at accessing its libraries of synthetic macrocycle drugs between small molecules and biologics, or Ensemblins™, for affinity screening in drug discovery efforts against targets that are hard to address because they are now undruggable through conventional small molecule drugs. Those partners include Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Genentech, and Pfizer.

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