The compounds, based on a Topas technology platform, will be aimed at restoring immune tolerance. Immune tolerance refers to the immune system being unresponsive to certain antigens — for instance, the body’s own proteins. Without immune tolerance, the body can generate an excessive immune response that prompts the immune system to attack healthy organs or tissue — a process called autoimmunity
Under the multiyear agreement, Topas will receive research and development funding. It will also receive financial rewards from the success of any drug developed under the collaboration. The agreement will give Lilly the option to license all therapies created under the collaboration, and to develop them further.
“We are excited to be working with Lilly to generate drug candidates using our proprietary technology,” Timm Jessen, the CEO of Topas Therapeutics, said in a press release. “We expect this work to support the value of our approach” of triggering immune tolerance against antigens, he said. The fact that an important pharmaceutical company like Lilly is interested “in our technology, we believe, supports the strong commercial potential of our work.”
Topas develops compounds against autoimmune reactions — that is, situations in which the immune system attacks healthy parts of the body. It is already developing treatments for multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and other autoimmune disorders.
While the majority of such therapies try to shut down the immune system, Topas’ approach is to trigger antigen-specific immune tolerance. This allows the body to regain control over an excessive immune response, while sparing the body’s normal immunity.
Topas links its compounds to tiny nanoparticles that liver sinusoidal endothelial cells can absorb. The liver cells are the first place where immune T-cells can learn what the body should not fight against.
In studies of mice with multiple sclerosis, a single injection of nanoparticles containing peptides found in neurons triggered a potent protective effect, improving the disease’s symptoms and blocking its progression. Peptides are components of proteins.
“Lilly is committed to be an innovation leader in immunology,” said Dr. Thomas F. Bumol, senior vice president of biotechnology and immunology research at Lilly. “Topas has a very novel approach to immune tolerance induction, which we would like to see successfully applied to certain disease-relevant antigens. We look forward to working together with Topas on their unique platform.”