Orca Pharmaceuticals, a U.K. based biopharmaceutical company, and AstraZeneca have announced a three-year collaboration to develop inhibitors of retinoic acid–related orphan nuclear receptor gamma (RORγ). Inhibitors of this receptor are believed to have potential against a wide range of autoimmune diseases for which there currently is no safe, orally available and effective treatment.
RORγ plays a key role in the immune system. Specifically, it helps to convert a population of immune cells called CD4+ T cells into T-helper 17 (TH17) cells which, in turn, produce chemicals (cytokines) that drive the immune response. However, excessive activity of TH17 cells and other RORγ+ immune cells have been implicated in a wide range of autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
AstraZeneca will gain access to RORγ inhibitors developed by Orca Pharmaceuticals and will integrate these into its in-house program. Working together, scientists from AstraZeneca and Orca Pharmaceuticals will identify lead compounds from this program for progression and characterize the autoimmune condition to which the lead compounds are best suited. Orca Pharmaceuticals will receive upfront and milestone payments from AstraZeneca dependent on the success of their RORγ inhibitors in the program with a potential total value of $122.5 million. AstraZeneca has the option to acquire the Orca compounds at the end of the collaboration.