Tolerizing vaccines for autoimmune diseases tempt BMS into $1.8bn collaboration

By Jonathan Smith

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/Andrew Brookes
Getty/Andrew Brookes

Related tags Autoimmune disease Autoimmune Bristol Myers Squibb Drug discovery Multiple sclerosis T cell

Bristol Myers Squibb partners with Repertoire Immune Medicines to develop innovative vaccines aimed at treating autoimmune disorders more selectively and effectively

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) has bet up to $1.8bn in a collaboration with Repertoire Immune Medicines to co-develop tolerizing vaccines to treat autoimmune disorders more selectively and effectively than current approaches.

As part of the multi-year deal, Repertoire will discover and develop vaccine candidates in preclinical stages with the help of its drug discovery platform and lipid nanoparticle know-how. BMS will take the lead in the clinical development and commercialization of any candidates from the deal, while Repertoire will assist with monitoring patient immune responses during clinical trials.

In turn, Repertoire is eligible for $65 million upfront in addition to up to $1.8 billion in development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments and tiered royalties on potential sales.

"We are excited to collaborate with Bristol Myers Squibb to combine their leadership in immunology with our unique ability to discover key disease-associated epitopes in patients with autoimmune diseases,” said Repertoire CEO Torben Straight Nissen, and Executive Partner of Flagship Pioneering, in a public statement.

Partnering interest from big pharma

The Repertoire team has seen a lot of partnering interest from large pharma companies for the treatment of autoimmune disease, so there is an appetite in the industry, Straight Nissen told this publication.

The company’s tolerizing vaccine candidates consist of fragments of disease-relevant antigens called epitopes and an immune modulator encoded in mRNA, and are designed to train the immune system to avoid attacking the epitopes, said the exec. These vaccines have the potential to provide durable disease remission in the absence of generalized immune suppression, which today’s medicines are not capable of doing. While there are also targeted biologic therapies in use, many patients fail to respond adequately or for a long time, he said.

Repertoire was launched in 2020 by Flagship Pioneering in the US and raised $189 million to finance the development of its drug discovery platform, named DECODE, in 2021. DECODE is designed to shed light on how T cells and their receptors interact with epitopes via the so-called immune synapse.

The concept of using vaccines to tame the immune system in autoimmune conditions has been around for a while, with one notable study demonstrating its potential in mouse models of multiple sclerosis last year.

“Autoimmune diseases are thought to affect 4% of the entire global human population. Over the next decade, we hope to see tolerizing vaccines applied to treat a number of these more than 80 known conditions,” Straight Nissen said. “Our current focus is to advance our portfolio of tolerizing vaccines into clinical development to demonstrate their safety and efficacy.”

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