Shire is paying $20 million up front to acquire rights to a drug that Parion Sciences has developed as a potential treatment for dry eye disease.
The deal calls for Shire (NASDAQ: SHPG) to take the lead on further work on P-321, a compound that Durham, NC-based Parion has tested in early-stage clinical trials. If the drug hits undisclosed milestones, Shire, which has its U.S. headquarters in Lexington, MA, could pay Parion up to $20 million more.
The drugs that are currently available for dry eye disease work by reducing inflammation in the eye. Parion is taking a different approach by targeting the epithelial sodium channel, or ENaC, which regulates the movement of sodium across a cell membrane. This channel helps maintain the balance of salt and water in a cell and Parion says that it plays a key role in the balance of tear production and tear absorption in the eye. The Parion drug was developed to block the tear absorption part of the ENaC pathway.
In a Phase 1/2a clinical trial that tested a range of doses of the Parion drug, the company says the compound showed “positive trends” compared to a placebo in improving the symptoms of dry eye disease. That 53-patient study was not large enough to fully test the drug, and Shire and Parion say that more clinical research is needed to assess both the safety and efficacy of the compound. The deal gives Parion the option to contribute funding toward later-stage clinical testing of the drug in exchange for higher royalties, if the drug is approved.
Parion has also researched the role of the ENaC cellular pathway in the lungs. Two years ago, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) paid $80 million up front to license a pair of Parion drugs developed as potential treatments for cystic fibrosis.