Pharma, Startups

Gencia teams with Takeda in $500M deal to develop mitochondrial therapeutic alternative to steroids

Virginia startup Gencia is developing a mitochondrial therapeutic that could prove an alternative to the widely prescribed steroid. It just entered a deal worth up to $500 million with Japanese pharma giant Takeda.

Chasing a new class of mitochondrial therapeutics that might replace conventional steroid drugs, Virginia startup Gencia is emerging from stealth mode with a new partnership with Takeda – worth up to $500 million.

The company is developing a new class of small molecule drugs to treat cancers, blood disorders and inflammatory disease. Called mitochondrial agonists of the glucocorticoid receptor, these drugs are meant to be chemically and functionally different than corticosteroids – but have a similar effect in patients.

“We’re excited about the therapeutic scope of the program of the program, since glucocorticoids are widely used inflammation and cancer,” CEO Allen Cunningham told MedCity News. “What we’re hoping to achieve is to produce the same therapeutic benefit of steroids without the negative side effects and resistance that also comes with their use.”

Takeda and Gencia will collaborate on developing two preclinical drug candidates, focusing on oncology and inflammation – verticals in which the Japanese pharma giant is already deeply enmeshed. Takeda plans on figuring out which targets will work best for clinical trials; Gencia will receive milestone payments up to $500 million, and will receive royalties for sales that could come from the partnership.

The company’s keeping mum about the specific mechanics of its platform – because there’s growing interest in developing an alternative to steroidal drugs. These medications cause adverse effects like osteoporosis, weight gain, face swelling and drug resistance – which could make an alternative that has fewer side effects rather attractive to the market.

Gencia was founded in 2010, and has raised about $15 million from private investors, as well as grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. The platform was developed in-house, Cunningham said – though many of the employees have ties with the University of Virginia, the technology is proprietary.

[IMAGE: Courtesy of Gencia]