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GSK Licenses Biotech Antibody for Arthritis, MS Drugs

Hands with arthritis (NIH)

(National Institutes of Health)

The biotechology company MorphoSys AG in Germany says the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is licensing its targeted human antibody drug candidate MOR103 to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The deal has a potential value to MorphoSys of €445.5 million ($US 579 million), not counting future sales royalties.

MorphoSys develops engineered antibodies for therapies and diagnostics. One of its main technologies is the Human Combinatorial Antibody Library or HuCAL, a collection it says numbers several billion distinct antibodies, of which 70 are currently in development.

MOR103 addresses the granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF), a cell-signaling protein that stimulates the growth of white blood cells, including those that cause inflammation of the synovial membrane around joints, sympomatic of rheumatoid arthritis. The drug aims to block the interaction of GM-CSF with cell-surface receptors of inflamed cells, thus reducing inflammation.

MorphoSys tested the drug in early-stage clinical studies, which showed MOR103 well tolerated at all three dosage levels. The trial with 96 patients having mild to moderate rheumatoid arthritis also showed desired clinical effects, after four weeks of treatment — in some cases as soon as two weeks — compared to a placebo. The anti-inflammatory effects included a reduction in synovitis (inflammation of the synovial membrane), which was confirmed in subsequent MRI scans.

GM-CSF is also implicated in the degradation of the myelin sheath around neurons, which leads to multiple sclerosis. MorphoSys is now recruiting participants in early-stage clinical trials of MOR-103 as a treatment for multiple sclerosis.

Under the deal, GSK — that is seeking collaborations on immune system and inflammation drugs — will take over further development and commercialization of MOR103. MorphoSys will receive an initial payment of €22.5 million from GSK, with additional payments of €423 million tied to developmental, regulatory, commercial, and marketing milestones. In addition, MorphoSys says it will be eligible royalties on net sales of drugs made from MOR103.

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Hat tip: Fierce Biotech

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