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A leg up for oncology
LA JOLLA, Calif.—Global oncology leader Takeda announced in late December that it made a cash-acquisition offer for its San Diego-area neighbor Intellikine Inc., a clinical-stage company discovering and developing small-molecule drugs that target signal transduction networks for the treatment of cancer and other diseases.
Under the agreement, Takeda America Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of Takeda, will acquire Intellikine for $190 million upfront and up to $120 million in additional potential clinical development milestone payments. At press time, the agreement was expected to be finalized at the end of January.
Intellikine has assembled a portfolio of small-molecule kinase inhibitors that selectively target isoforms of the phosphoinositide-3 kinase/mammalian target of rapamycin (PI3K1/mTOR2) pathway. The company's assets include ongoing Phase I clinical programs involving selective inhibition of mTOR kinase and isoform-specific inhibition of PI3Kα, as well as a partnered program involving research and development of isoform-specific inhibitors of PIK3Kδ and PI3Kγ and a robust discovery research platform in small-molecule kinase inhibitors. Intellikine's most advanced drug candidate, INK128, a novel mTORC1/2 inhibitor, has generated encouraging data in multiple Phase I studies and is expected to enter Phase II studies in 2012. INK1117, a novel and selective inhibitor of the PI3Kα isoform, entered human clinical testing in September 2011.
Partnering with industry leaders has always been a key component of Intellikine's growth strategy, according to Dr. Troy Wilson, the company 's president and CEO. For example, in July 2010, the company entered into a collaboration agreement with Infinity Pharmaceuticals to develop oral therapies targeting PIK3Kδ and PI3Kγ for indications including cancer as well as immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. The collaboration provided Intellikine with $13.5 million in an initial license payment, committed research funding for two years, up to $25 million in success-based milestones for development of two distinct product candidates and up to $450 million in success-based milestones for the approval and commercialization of two products.
"We didn't do a lot of basic research at Intellikine," explains Wilson. "We worked with academic collaborators and CROs, providing them with compounds and working with them to determine how best to use them. I think that is an important lesson for how biotechs will operate going forward. On the one hand, there is a huge understanding of biology in academia that is excited to work with biotech, while on the other, it's not something that is cost-effective for most biotech companies to do. So there's a great fit. We knew PI3K was a hugely competitive space, and although as a tiny little company we knew we could compete from discovery to proof-of-concept, when you start to go into Phase II, you need significant resources. You can definitely run one or two Phase II trials with a small company, but ultimately, you have a responsibility to do what is best for patients."
It was this foresight and talent that attracted Takeda to Intellikine, says Daniel Curran, vice president of business development at Takeda.
"We have been impressed by the change in Intellikine over the past two and a half years as the company progressed from focusing on preclinical drug discovery of lead compounds to moving three molecules into the clinic," Curran says.
Intellikine's targets are not limited to oncology approaches, he notes. mTOR—which stands for stands for mammalian Target Of Rapamycin—is a serine/threonine protein kinase that regulates cell growth, cell proliferation, cell motility, cell survival, protein synthesis and transcription, and integrates the input from upstream pathways, including insulin, growth factors and amino acids, Curran says.
"The mTOR pathway has been implicated in a number of other diseases, and has a strong scientific foundation in metabolic regulation and diabetes," he points out. "Takeda is a leader in metabolic disease and the diabetes field, so this is a good fit for us."
Intellikine's success "speaks to the quality of the individuals at the company, who are highly capable and sophisticated in drug discovery and development," says Curran.
"The ability to acquire and retain the scientific talent at Intellikine was very attractive to us," he adds.
Takeda's California offices are located within a mile of the La Jolla facilities that house Intellikine's three dozen employees, who are being offered positions at Takeda.
"We actually managed to close the acquisition and retain the vast majority of Intellikine's individuals," says Curran. "They have become a part of the Takeda organization, and we are very excited about the opportunity for this team to continue their work."
As for Wilson, who describes himself as a "serial entrepreneur," he will not be joining the Takeda team. Having served in many founding roles at Ambrx, Wildcat Discovery Technologies and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, Wilson will now explore other business ventures.
"I'll likely be involved in something new with good science, good people and ideally, the opportunity to make an impact for both patients and investors in a relatively short period of time," he says.