On November 27, 2009, we posted an article on this blog about the use of stapled peptides in targeting intracellular pathways. This technology was originally developed by Dr. Gregory Verdine (Department of Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge MA, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston MA) and his colleagues. A biotechnology company, Aileron Therapeutics (Cambridge, MA) was founded (with Dr. Verdine among its founders) in 2005 to develop and commercialize stapled peptide drugs. Aileron’s most advanced compounds, which are being developed for the treatment of solid and hematological tumors, are only in the preclinical stage.
On August 24, 2010, Aileron and Roche announced that they had entered into a collaboration to discover, develop, and commercialize stapled peptide drugs designed to address up to five undisclosed targets. These targets are selected from Roche’s key therapeutic areas of interest–oncology, viral diseases, inflammation, metabolic diseases, and central nervous system diseases.
Under the agreement, Roche will provide Aileron guaranteed funding of at least $25 million in R&D support and technology access fees. Aileron will also be eligible to receive up to $1.1 billion in discovery, development, regulatory, and commercialization milestone payments, if drug candidates are developed against all five targets. Aileron will also receive royalties on any future sales of marketed products that result from the collaboration.
In our November 2009 article, we discussed the design of stapled peptides, in which hydrocarbon moieties are used to constrain, or “staple” peptide sequences into an α-helical conformation. These sequences are designed to mimic key binding domains of proteins that are involved in intracellular signaling pathways. We gave two examples of pathways that were addressed by specific stapled peptides: the Notch pathway and a Bcl-2-related apoptotic pathway. In both cases, the stapled peptides modulated protein-protein interactions that are considered “undruggable” by conventional small-molecule drugs.
According to Roche, It is “as yet intractable” intracellular protein-protein interactions that are of special interest to the company in collaborating with Aileron.
According to Aileron, the new alliance with Roche validates the broad potential of their stapled peptide technology platform across multiple therapeutic areas and classes of targets. The alliance also provides Aileron with capital to advance its internal R&D.
The Roche agreement represents Aileron’s first Big Pharma strategic alliance. However, a venture capital consortium that included GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Roche, and Lilly invested $40 million in Aileron in June 2009.
As we said in our November 2009 article, stapled peptides represent an exciting and innovative technology with the potential to address “undruggable” protein-protein interactions, even though the therapeutic value of stapled peptides has not yet been confirmed in the clinic. (We have discussed several other means of addressing protein-protein interactions in various articles in this blog–these targets represent an area of opportunity for companies that are innovative enough to pursue it.) And as we discussed in a more recent article, Roche is one of the Big Pharma companies that continues to be focused on innovative drug discovery and development, in an era of Big Pharma R&D retrenchment. The Aileron-Roche partnership therefore appears to be an ideal match.