Accent, AstraZeneca Ink Cancer Drug Deal to Block RNA-Modifying Proteins

Xconomy Boston — 

AstraZeneca is looking to bolster its cancer R&D portfolio with therapies that target RNA-modifying enzymes and other proteins involved in cancer. On Thursday the Cambridge, UK-based pharma giant announced it would pay Boston-area biotech Accent Therapeutics $55 million up front to gain access to its drug discovery know-how in RNA-modifying protein biology.

The biology of RNA modification is a relatively new field. Small molecule drugs that can inhibit cancer-linked enzymes and other proteins that can modify RNA are meant to disrupt the reliance of cancer cells on these enzymes for cell growth.

Teaming up will combine Accent’s insights into RNA-modifying proteins with AstraZeneca’s oncology experience, the companies said. José Baselga, who leads oncology R&D at AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), in a statement called it “a compelling area of exploration” for the company.

Since Accent launched in May 2018 with $40 million, the Lexington, MA-based company has built a pipeline of small molecule programs, a pair of which—designed to target METTL3 and ADAR1, enzymes believed to play a role in some cancers—lead the pack. Earlier this year Accent added a $63 million Series B round, money it said would allow it to move a lead program into the clinic.

If its alliance with AstraZeneca pans out, Accent is eligible to receive millions more—about $1.1 billion in total through milestone payments and tiered royalties on any products that make it to the market. Accent, which is helmed by CEO Shakti Narayan, will have the choice to opt into a co-development and co-commercialization agreement that would see it split US profits and losses on any drugs created through the partnership.

Under the deal terms Accent is responsible for R&D for a preclinical program through Phase I clinical trials. Once that evaluation is complete, AstraZeneca will take it from there, through further clinical development and, if approved, commercialization. The agreement also gives AstraZeneca the right to license two more preclinical discovery programs.

Image: iStock/Christoph Burgstedt