British biotech startup Orca got $122.5 million from AstraZeneca PLC after the two companies signed a three-year research agreement to develop Orca’s retinoic acid-related orphan nuclear receptor gamma inhibitors.
Orca is slated to receive upfront and milestone payments from AstraZeneca, depending on the success of its RORϒ inhibitors in the program. There is potential for further payments if the drugs reach clinical milestones.
RORϒ are part of a new class of autoimmune drugs that help convert immune cells called CD4+ T cells into T-helper 17 (TH17) cells that can jolt the body’s immune response. But if TH17 cells and other RORϒ+ immune cells fail to work, they can cause a variety of autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
“Respiratory, inflammation and autoimmune diseases represent a main therapeutic area for AstraZeneca,” said Maarten Kraan, head of the Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases Innovative Medicines unit at AstraZeneca. “We are delighted to be partnering with Orca Pharmaceuticals in this hot area of immunology science to help us create potentially best-in-class chemical assets and candidate drugs for patients who currently do not have any oral medicines available to treat their chronic conditions.”