Savira pharmaceuticals GmbH, a spin-off of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) based in Vienna, Austria, has signed a collaboration and license agreement with Roche, thus further strengthening the links between fundamental research and major pharmaceutical development companies.
This partnership should promote the joint development of new and innovative drug-candidates to fight both seasonal and pandemic influenza. It is based on research by Stephen Cusack, Head of EMBL Grenoble, and colleagues Darren Hart and Rob Ruigrok of the joint EMBL-Grenoble University-CNRS Unit for virus host cell interactions (UVHCI). They study the unique mechanism of how the influenza virus replicates, known as "cap-snatching", and the detailed architecture of the various molecules involved.
Cap-snatching is one of the mechanisms used by the virus to hijack the protein-production machinery of the infected host cell so that it preferentially produces viral proteins. It is performed by a viral enzyme called polymerase. Small molecule inhibitors of the polymerase targeting the cap-snatching mechanism can block viral replication and thus prevent the infection from spreading. Because this mechanism is used by all influenza strains, such inhibitors could potentially help fight a wide range of flu viruses, including novel pandemic strains.
Savira will provide Roche with an exclusive, worldwide license on its cap-snatching inhibitor programme in exchange for milestone payments that could total EUR 240 million, in addition to upfront payments, research and development support, and royalties on product sales.
"This partnership proves the importance of basic research in the fight against global health threats such as flu," explains Iain Mattaj, Director General of EMBL. "Innovative solutions to current medical challenges can only arise from new fundamental knowledge."
"Roche and Savira started their fruitful collaboration already in 2009," comments Gábor Lamm, Managing Director, EMBLEM Technology Transfer GmbH (EMBLEM). "This deal will intensify the joint research and development activities towards new and more efficient influenza treatments."