Probiodrug said today it sold its experimental cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9) inhibitor program to AstraZeneca for an undisclosed price—the second time in less than a month that the pharma giant has moved to strengthen its pipeline in a key therapeutic area by buying an R&D operation from another company.

The sale included a CDK9 inhibitor lead molecule and back-up compounds with associated intellectual property. AstraZeneca sees CDK9 as a promising target for treating both cancer and inflammatory diseases given its role in cell cycle control and transcription regulation, and resulting involvement in the regulation of immune responses and inflammation.

Oncology is one of AstraZeneca’s three core therapeutic areas following a reorganization of its R&D operations announced in March. Another therapeutic area combines inflammation with respiratory and autoimmunity diseases. The remaining therapeutic area is cardiovascular and metabolic diseases—including diabetes. On December 19, AstraZeneca said it will acquire the global diabetes business of collaboration partner Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) in a deal that could net BMS more than $4 billion. The announcement came little more than a month after BMS said it would exit broad-based discovery research in diabetes as part of an announced R&D restructuring.

In a statement commenting on the deal involving CDK9, Probiodrug CFO Hendrik Liebers said, “This transaction is consistent with our strategy to focus our resources exclusively on Alzheimer’s disease.” In addition, Liebers noted, “AstraZeneca is an excellent party to take over our promising CDK9 inhibitor program.”

Susan Galbraith, vp and head of the Oncology iMed unit at AstraZeneca said her company was interested in developing the CDK9 inhibitor as one of several targeted therapies for oncology. “We believe that Probiodrug’s CDK9 inhibitor program, while early stage, shows potential,” Galbraith added. “We look forward to continuing its development.”

According to its website, Probiodrug has identified several CDK9 inhibitors that show “potent” anti-inflammatory properties in various in vitro and in vivo models of pain and inflammatory pain. In animal models of rheumatoid arthritis, CDK9 inhibitors have shown that they can produce a “profound” reduction of cellular infiltration into arthritis joints, suggesting a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic activity.

Probiodrug envisioned its set of CDK9 inhibitors as promising targets in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory pain, and chronic inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel syndrome.

CDK9 inhibition is one therapeutic approach developed by Probiodrugs. The German company has also developed inhibitors of glutaminyl cyclase (QC), a metalloenzyme responsible for the formation of the toxic amyloid-beta species pyroglutamated (pGlu) Abeta. QC is involved in the final maturation of peptide hormones seen in inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.

Last month, Probiodrug and researchers from the Paul Flechsig Institute for Brain Research at Germany’s University of Leipzig published results in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showing a strong correlation between expression of QC and cognitive decline in individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Founded in 1997, Probiodrug has raised a total of $52 million in private equity. The company says it has grown to more than $50 million in revenues, and is debt-free.

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