Some might say it's long overdue as the condition has a prognosis not dissimilar from lung cancer, but doesn’t get as much investment when it comes to treatment.
The FTSE 100-listed group will pay US$17mln for an exclusive licence to develop Redx’s RXC006, a porcupine inhibitor, for fibrotic diseases.
The new drug will target idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), where progressive scarring of the lungs (fibrosis) is usually fatal and the prognosis worse than many cancers.
Porcupine inhibition is an approach that suppresses Wnt ligand secretion from pro-fibrotic cells. Wnt ligands are known to be strong drivers of fibrotic mechanisms found in diseases such as IPF.
According to a scientific article written by Imperial College London professors earlier this year, COVID-19 patients may develop lung fibrosis after contracting the virus – so the pandemic may have accelerated the rising interest in this condition.
But fibrosis can be anywhere in the body, not only the lungs: it’s also found in the liver, kidneys, brain and heart among other organs, meaning there’s scope for many more treatments.
“Fibrotic diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis have a significant impact on patients' lives and new therapies are urgently needed,” Mene Pangalos, executive vice president BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, commented in relation to the Redx deal.
Lisa Anson, chief executive officer at Redx, echoed this view speaking to Proactive.
“It’s an area where we think we have a couple of pathways that could be really important if you can develop a viable drug for them.”
“Our strategy is to take forward molecules through to the clinical proof concept, obviously that’s a big investment, a big step, so we can’t do it with all the great molecules that Redx scientists have developed,” she continued.
“What we’ve chosen to do is to select some to take forward ourselves and a couple of others to partner because we think it’s important that they find a way to the clinic.”
If the drug makes it to market, Redx will receive up to a further US$360mln in development and commercial milestones, plus tiered royalties.
That’s quite an achievement for a junior player that, until Monday, was valued at £48mln.
With the share price more than doubling following the announcement, shares are now trading at 52p, lifting the market capitalisation to £103mln.