Lupus Treatment Kicks off by Astellas Platform Licence to Baxalta, VCD and Mayo


Biopharma giants Baxalta, Velocity Pharmaceuticals Development (VPD) and Mayo Clinic launched a new biotech startup, Thunderbolt Pharma, through their collaboration model, Vitesse Biologics.

Vitesse Biologics

They took license of BAFF/APRIL dual antagonist program from Astellas Pharma through an asset purchase agreement, the financial details of which were not disclosed.

astella pharma world wide logoThunderbolt starts off with this BAFF/APRIL programme that will be developed for the treatment of B cell disorders specifically including, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It is the first company started by Vitesse Biologics. This collaboration model between the Baxalta, VPD and Mayo Clinic is one of a kind for the development of antibody and protein based therapeutics in the field of hematology, oncology and immunology.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (often abbreviated as SLE or lupus) is a systemic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks attacks healthy tissue. It is also known as discoid lupus or disseminated lupus erythematosus.

apoptosis in lupus

Figure 1. Illustration of altered clearance and repaired mechanism in SLE

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, at least 1.5 million Americans are living with diagnosed lupus. To date, treatment for SLE is not curative and the available treatment strategies provide only symptomatic relief.

“With this asset purchase from Astellas and the creation of Thunderbolt, we are excited to begin to accelerate the development of the BAFF/APRIL dual antagonist program with the potential to deliver innovative treatments for patients with unmet needs,” said John Orloff, M.D., head of Research & Development and chief scientific officer, Baxalta. “This is the first company formed under the Vitesse Biologics platform, and we look forward to continuing to build our portfolio to explore new concepts and technologies”.

Baxalta, VPD and Mayo Clinic are all looking up to Thunderbolt and will all contribute to the development costs related to the program. All the three contributors as well as Astellas own shares in Thunderbolt.

Baxalta will offer Vitesse, global commercialization platform, its antibody and protein development and manufacturing capabilities. At par with the doctors and researchers at Mayo Clinic’s Office of Translation to Practice will advise on selection of preclinical candidates and the design and conduct of Phase I clinical trials. In the meantime, VPD at Vitesse will be responsible for selection and identification of early stage drug candidates.

Thunderbolt will be focused on Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). SLE is an autoimmune disease with more cases in women than men (20:1). SLE is characterized by butterfly rashes, oral ulcers, anaemia, arthritis etc. There is no cure for SLE, however immunosuppressants are used to relieve the symptoms.

We are pleased to have created this first company as a result of the novel model in drug development which leverages the basic science and clinical expertise of Mayo Clinic researchers with the drug development and manufacturing expertise of our partners, to accelerate patient therapies for B cell disorders” said Dr. Andrew Badley, director of drug discovery and the Office of Translation to Practice, Center for Clinical and Translational Science at Mayo Clinic.

Baxalta was founded on 1 July 2015 after its parent company, Baxter International.The company aims to launch 20 in-development projects by 2020.

Velocity Pharmaceutical Development was formed by Presidio Partners with the major aim to develop candidates using a cost-efficient “build to sell” model.

Featured image credit: NORWAY – CIRCA 2004 stamp  © Boris15 (Stock Photo ID: 101597240)

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