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to inhibit an enzyme called ATPase, that controls the energy source of a cell. It’s based on Glick’s research, which has found that activated T-cells that attack healthy tissue have a different way of producing ATP than T-cells that people need to have a strong immune defense. Once Lycera’s scientists had a good understanding of the structural difference between the ATPase in the different cell types, so they were able to synthesize specific drugs that can inhibit the T-cells that harm healthy tissue, while leaving the important T-cells alone, Glick says.
About 12 months behind that program, Lycera has another drug in the works that hits a different target, called Th17. The Th17 biological pathway is involved in producing IL-17, one of a number of inflammatory proteins that are thought to be involved in autoimmunity.
No drugs on the market today work by hitting those targets, so this is very much uncharted territory for drug development. South San Francisco-based Rigel Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RIGL) struck a partnership in February with AstraZeneca that brought in a $100 million upfront payment to co-develop an oral rheumatoid arthritis drug. And Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, is developing an oral pill that hits a different target called JAK-3.
Both of those drugs are further along in development, having completed mid-stage clinical trials. So they are competitors in that they have oral pills for the same disease, although Lycera says it believes it is in the lead in terms of hitting its specific targets.
“These are novel pathways we are pursuing, and there are not a lot of comparables to us,” says Sibold, the CEO. “We are pioneering, breaking new ground here.”