GlaxoSmithKline buys Sitari Pharmaceuticals, gaining coeliac disease programme

GlaxoSmithKline entered into an agreement to buy Sitari Pharmaceuticals, gaining the latter's transglutaminase 2 (TG2) small-molecule programme for coeliac disease, Avalon Ventures announced Wednesday. Sitari was formed in 2013 as part of a collaboration between GlaxoSmithKline and Avalon to establish a number of early-stage life science companies in San Diego.

John Lepore, senior vice president of research at GlaxoSmithKline, remarked "bringing the Sitari TG2 programme into [GlaxoSmithKline] is strongly aligned with our research focus on genetically-associated targets and immune-driven disease." Lepore noted that "TG2 inhibition could represent a new hope for coeliac disease patients," with therapies targeting activity of the enzyme potentially suppressing the autoimmune response that results in intestinal inflammation and cell pathogenesis in people with the condition.

Jay Lichter, CEO of Sitari, noted that the company has made enough progress with a potential drug that clinical trials can now be planned. Lichter added that GlaxoSmithKline "recognised that, and saw a strategic fit, so they were ready to bring it out." Under the terms of the agreement, GlaxoSmithKline acquired Sitari and all of its intellectual property, while financial terms were not disclosed.

As part of the initial deal, GlaxoSmithKline contributed as much as $465 million in funding and development milestone payments to create up to 10 startup companies, with the drugmaker having first rights on buying each new venture. Lichter said that the partnership has now ended as GlaxoSmithKline's interests have shifted away from the original plan.

"When we signed the deal, it was a different CEO and different president of research" at GlaxoSmithKline, noted Lichter. The collaboration led to the formation of eight companies, with four besides Sitari still operating, namely Iron Horse Therapeutics, Calporta Therapeutics, PDI Therapeutics and Silarus Therapeutics. Lichter indicated that Avalon is searching for partners to commercialise these companies' therapies.

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