Japan's Sosei Says May See More Partners To Develop Drugs

Japan’s Sosei Group Corp., which has seen its stock triple over the past year on tie-ups with international companies, could enter into more partnerships in 2016 to develop new medicines and diversify beyond its main lung disease treatment.

There are drugs in the company’s pipeline that are more advanced and "these I believe will be partnered sooner or later,’’ Chief Executive Officer Shinichi Tamura said in an interview in Tokyo. “So that could be the first big news in 2016.”

Sosei shares climbed 7.1 percent to 12,340 yen in Tokyo today, while the broad Topix index fell 1.1 percent.

The Tokyo-based drugmaker already has partnerships and licensing agreements with companies including AstraZeneca Plc and Novartis AG to develop treatments for conditions from cancer to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Sosei acquired a U.K. biotechnology company, Heptares Therapeutics Ltd., last February for as much as $400 million to help diversify revenue.

The Heptares acquisition brought additional drug candidates to Sosei, some of which have attracted the attention of large pharmaceutical companies. Heptares has an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s disease in early-stage clinical testing, as well as other compounds for psychosis, migraines, diabetes and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It uses a drug design technology -- called StaR -- to target GPCR proteins, which are the site of action of about 40 percent of drugs on the market today.

Commercialization for the Heptares drugs -- all in early stages -- is at least five years away, Tamura said. In the meantime, Sosei plans to derive revenue from pipeline partnerships and technology deals in the mid-term, he said.

Pfizer Inc. said in November it would purchase $33 million of newly issued Sosei shares, representing about 3 percent of the enlarged Sosei share capital. Pfizer at the time said it would also enter into a drug-discovery collaboration with Heptares to develop new medicines aimed at a handful of biological targets that may play a role in multiple diseases. In November, Heptares entered into a pact with Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. over a migraine treatment. The partnerships have helped Sosei’s shares triple over the past year.

Formerly an employee of Genentech, Tamura left and founded Sosei in 1990, at a time when biotech start-ups were not common in Japan. He says that through years of being in the industry and being based in multiple places, he is regularly alerted of investment opportunities from venture capital funds or others in the industry. The company’s business development team is “always actively doing something,” Tamura said, though he’s led transformative deals such as the Heptares transaction himself.

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