Astellas Pharma of Tokyo and Drais Pharmaceuticals of Bridgewater, N.J., have entered into a uniquely structured partnership to develop and commercialize an Astellas compound currently in phase IIa study.
Astellas will transfer ownership of ASP3291, a melanocortin receptor agonist for the potential treatment of ulcerative colitis, from its pipeline to Telsar Pharma, a virtual company that will be operated by the Drais executive team. All Telsar development activities will be handled by the Drais executive team, which has substantial clinical development experience. Telsar will be responsible for all development, manufacturing and commercialization activities and their associated costs.
Astellas is entitled to receive an upfront payment and royalties on future sales of ASP3291, as well as the right of first exclusive negotiation for future partnering activities related to the compound and the right of first refusal for the Japanese market. The company also has the right of non-exclusive negotiation for other markets.
InterWest Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures and Astellas Venture Management will invest a total of $14 million into Telsar. The funds will be used to further the development of ASP3291, with Drais serving as the exclusive provider of development services. Drais and Astellas will also seek further opportunities to put Astellas compounds into this innovative partnership.
"The unique structure of this partnership is reflective of Astellas' new 'Multi-Track R&D' approach," said Yoshihiko Hatanaka, president and CEO of Astellas. "This new strategy enables us to move our promising compounds forward without any disruption in the development process. Additionally, this new approach allows us to optimize costs and control risks while accessing outside capital and expertise. We believe the partnership with Drais is an excellent opportunity for us to increase our ability to bring innovative medicines to patients."
The participants in the partnership have all worked together successfully in the past. Co-founders Donna L. Tempel and Robert E. Desjardins were previously the senior management of Yamanouchi R&D (a precursor company to Astellas) in Paramus, N.J. Later they served as the executive team of AkaRx, acquired by Eisai/MGI for $300 million in 2010. Arnold Oronsky, general partner at InterWest, and Dr. Jeff Bird, managing director at Sutter Hill Ventures, are both board members and investors in Drais; they previously held the same positions at AkaRx. Astellas Venture Management was also an investor in AkaRx.