ViewPoints: Boehringer Ingelheim turns to PureTech for a gut check to its oncology programme

A partnership between Boehringer Ingelheim and PureTech Health to specifically ramp up immune responses within the GI tract could be ideal to synergise with the pharma's diverse efforts in immuno-oncology (I/O), while also delivering a vote of confidence to PureTech's research prowess.

What happened

PureTech said on April 17 that it partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim to develop immunology drug candidates, with a focus on gastrointestinal (GI) cancers. Boehringer Ingelheim will gain exclusive rights to candidates against undisclosed target derived from PureTech's Brain-Immune-Gut (BIG) platform, which explores the communication axes between the organ systems.

The deal could be worth more than $226 million for PureTech, with up to $26 million tied to upfront payments and nearer term milestones.

What it means

Boehringer Ingelheim has called out GI cancers as an area of focus to expand its oncology efforts beyond non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and its existing approvals for Giotrif (afatinib) and Vargatef (nintedanib). Immunology therapies have been a particular focus within that GI effort; the company has already combined its LGR5/6 agonist, BI 905677, with checkpoint inhibitors in preclinical models, and has a Phase I monotherapy study ongoing. The company also has a track record of broad investments in various immune cell technologies, including oncolytic viruses and T-cell engagers, to keep a set of diversified approaches in its bag of I-O tricks. (See ViewPoints: Boehringer Ingelheim hires OSE’s SIRPa to gain foothold on I/O mountain)

Now with PureTech, Boehringer Ingelheim will be getting the company's "lymphatic targeting technology," which it says can offer alternative routes for drug delivery and metabolism, while also hitting large populations of immune cells. PureTech says that drug candidates that are circulated through the gut's unique lymphatic vasculature can avoid transport through the liver and first-pass metabolism, while also directly and specifically acting on the 70 percent of adaptive immune cells that are hosted by the mesenteric lymph nodes.  

The partners added that the trafficking technology could be applied to candidates "across a range of physiochemical properties," suggesting that many of the diverse irons in Boehringer Ingelheim's fire could have an equal shot at success with the system.

The bigger picture

The deal also comes along as a strong validation for PureTech, which now has its second deal harnessing research from its internal pipeline. The company operates under an 'affiliate' structure to spin out promising concepts into subsidiary companies- including reTORbio and Vedanta Biosciences- but has more recently organised a separate, internal R&D unit focused on the BIG axis.

Roche was convinced to partner with PureTech's internal platform last year, taking off one slice of the drug trafficking technology focused on exosome delivery of oligonucleotides- specifically, lymphatic circulation of complex payloads within exosomes that could enable "the targeting of immune cells in novel ways."

The second vote of confidence from big pharma could go a long way to validate the work of PureTech's internal group, and possibility spill over to its affiliates. Hopefully that enthusiasm can make its way to the FDA, where the agency is currently reviewing an application for a digital candidate to treat  attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which the company says represents the first clinical programme of its kind.

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