AstraZeneca will develop and market an oral therapy for the treatment of inflammatory and respiratory diseases with focus on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and C4X will receive up to $16m in upfront payments

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AstraZeneca’s Discovery Centre overhead view. (Credit: AstraZeneca)

UK-based drug discovery company C4X Discovery has signed a $402m exclusive global licensing agreement with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, for its NRF2 Activator programme.

Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca will develop and market an oral therapy for the treatment of inflammatory and respiratory diseases with a focus on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

C4X Discovery will receive up to $16m in pre-clinical milestone payments prior to the first clinical trial, including an upfront payment of $2m.

The company is also eligible to receive a further potential $385.8m in clinical development and commercial milestones and tiered mid-single digit royalties upon commercialisation.

AstraZeneca biopharmaceuticals R&D executive vice president Mene Pangalos said: “At AstraZeneca, we are committed to transforming care in respiratory and immune-mediated disease and move beyond symptom control.

“Our alliance with C4XD adds an important new asset to our portfolio to push the boundaries of science by targeting underlying disease drivers to potentially modify the course of these diseases.”

According to C4X Discovery, inflammation is an important driver in various pathological conditions, including respiratory diseases.

NRF2 is a crucial natural regulator that controls the expression of antioxidant genes, and plays an important role in cellular defence, and regulates the inflammatory response.

The targeting of NRF2 pathway to reduce inflammatory damage provides the potential for a new approach to treating various inflammatory diseases, such as COPD.

According to the company, activation of NRF2 would help reduce the negative effects of the oxidative stress-induced progression of the disease.

C4X Discovery said that lead candidates from its oral NRF2 Activator programme would significantly activate NRF2 after oral dosing, to offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.

C4X Discovery CEO Clive Dix said: “Drug Discovery is inherently scientifically complex, and it is through our unique expertise and proprietary cutting-edge technologies that C4XD is yet again proving itself as an exemplar in this field.

“NRF2 is thought to be a critical but challenging anti-inflammatory target, and I am proud of the work by our team to achieve a broad stable of intellectual property for this programme, leading to our third significant deal with a truly world-renowned industry leader.

“The COPD market alone is worth close to $20 billion and rising. But, more importantly, I know that in AstraZeneca’s hands, with their scientific, technical and commercial expertise, our NRF2 Activator programme has the potential to deliver life-changing treatments for the millions of patients suffering with COPD across the world.”

Last month, AstraZeneca and US-based DNA sequencing company Illumina have entered a strategic research collaboration focused on drug target discovery.