Firms will develop small molecules against RORgamma.

Karo Bio entered into a research collaboration agreement with Pfizer in the field of autoimmune diseases. Karo Bio may receive up to $217 million in up-front and milestone payments in addition to royalty fees.

The focus will be on small molecule RORgamma modulators. Pfizer will provide full funding for research costs. It has the exclusive right to market any products that may be developed as a result of the collaboration.

The nuclear hormone receptor RORgamma is a new target for the treatment of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. RORgamma directly controls the production and secretion of the cytokine IL-17, a major contributor to inflammation. The receptor’s key role in driving disease pathology has been implicated through clinical studies using mAbs that neutralize IL-17 activity.

“The central role of RORgt in Th17 cell differentiation coupled with the increasing clinical validation for the importance of IL-17 and other Th17-derived cytokines in autoimmune diseases makes RORgt a compelling target,” says Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, svp, biotherapeutics, worldwide R&D, Pfizer. “Combining KaroBio’s deep expertise in nuclear hormone receptors with the world-class chemistry and cytokine immunology expertise of Pfizer has the potential to accelerate our drug discovery effort in this competitive area.”

Karo Bio’s projects focus on nuclear receptors as target proteins for the development of new pharmaceuticals. It says that it has two in-house projects in clinical development phase, one in preclinical development, and one in early discovery phase. The company also has partnered programs with Merck & Co. in women’s health and multiple scleroris, Alkerm in dyslipidemia, and Zydus Cadila in inflammatory diseases.

Additionally it has a separate agreement with Pfizer, which began in 2001 with Pfizer’s now wholly owned subsidiary Wyeth. It focuses on the development of new drugs for the treatment of inflammatory diseases with the liver X receptor as a target protein. From September 2009, Wyeth took on full responsibility for R&D.

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