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Biotech to Earn Up to $1 Billion from Synthetic Peptides

Bicycle race

(r17frances, Pixabay)

2 December 2016. A biotechnology enterprise designing synthetic peptides to treat a range of diseases could gain up to $1 billion or more in a licensing deal with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. While the broad outlines of the agreement between Bicycle Therapeutics Ltd. in Cambridge, U.K. and AstraZeneca were announced, more financial details were not disclosed.

Bicycle Therapeutics discovers synthetic peptides, low molecular weight biologic drugs comprised of 9 to 15 amino acids that the company says can address specific targets like antibodies, but more efficiently and with fewer adverse effects. The company licenses its technology from Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, specifically the work of Sir Gregory Winter at University of Cambridge and Christian Heinis, now on the faculty at EPFL in Switzerland. Winter and Heinis are scientific founders of Bicycle Therapeutics.

The company identifies peptides from phage display libraries, collections of viruses that infect bacteria known as bacteriophages, that display molecules on their surface linking to proteins and enzymes, offering potential treatment targets. While peptides designed by Bicycle Therapeutics are more complex than natural peptides, they are still small enough to be quickly absorbed by cells and less likely to induce an immune reaction than antibodies. The company says its Bicycles peptides are cleared quickly by the kidneys, thus avoiding potential adverse interactions with the stomach or liver.

Bicycle Therapeutics’ first therapies are for cancer using what the company calls drug conjugates to deliver cancer-killing toxins directly to tumors. Because of their small size, says the company, Bicycles peptides in the drug conjugates deliver the anti-tumor toxins quickly, with little if any damage to other tissue. Bicycle’s lead program targets the membrane type 1 matrix metalloproteinase, or MT1-MMP, an enzyme expressed in solid tumors including breast, lung, ovarian, and colon cancer, as well as connective and soft-tissue carcinoma.

The company says its technology can be applied to a wide range of diseases other than cancer, and AstraZeneca expects to apply the peptides to metabolic, cardiovascular, and respiratory disorders. “The Bicycle platform expands our drug discovery capabilities and enables us to broaden the range of targets we can prosecute across a range of disease indications,” says Menelas Pangalos, an executive vice-president at AstraZeneca in a Bicycle Therapeutics statement, adding that, “we are confident this collaboration will result in clinically important advances for patients suffering from respiratory, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases.”

An early product from the collaboration appears to be inhaled treatments for respiratory and other disorders. “We look forward to working with AstraZeneca,” says Bicycle Therapeutics CEO Kevin Lee, “to create novel inhaled therapeutics and targeting agents in these areas of high unmet medical need.”

The deal calls for Bicycle Therapeutics to identify a certain number of its Bicycles peptides for an undisclosed number of targets. AstraZeneca will then be responsible for further product development and commercialization. Under the agreement, AstraZeneca pays an initial fee to Bicycle Therapeutics, with the Cambridge company eligible for future R&D funding, development, regulatory, and commercialization milestone payments valued at more than $1 billion. Bicycle Therapeutics will also be eligible for royalties on sales of products developed under the collaboration.

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