Paving the way for new inflammatory disease therapeutics

Complementary expertise in inflammatory diseases and a proven track record in translating discovery research into therapeutics led WEHI and Boston-based biotech pharmaceutical company IFM Therapeutics to join forces.

Founded in 2015, IFM Therapeutics is focused on developing new drugs targeting the innate immune system to treat cancer, inflammation and autoimmune diseases. In 2017, two of IFM Therapeutics’ immuno-oncology programs were acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb. IFM also secured two deals with Novartis in 2019 for innate immune programs targeting autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases. Collectively, these deals have a potential value of several billion US dollars.

Highlighting the role of inflammasomes in inflammatory diseases

Immunology division lab head Professor Seth Masters is a leading expert in Inflammasomes – large protein complexes involved in the innate immune response and inflammation – and their roles in disease. Professor Masters has recently made significant discoveries about several Inflammasome proteins and developed assays to assess their activation or inhibition, which became the basis of an IFM-WEHI partnership.

Utilising the advanced facilities and expertise of WEHI’s National Drug Discovery Centre, IFM and WEHI are conducting a high-throughput small molecule screen to try to identify drug-like compounds with the potential to inhibit the innate immune pathways that are the focus of an IFM drug development program.

“IFM has a strong track record in developing these types of anti-inflammatory drugs and was the perfect partner for this project,” Professor Masters said.

Above: Professor Seth Masters

Working together to identify novel pathways and develop new therapeutics

“We were attracted to WEHI for this collaboration through our relationship with Professor Masters and the high-quality drug discovery capabilities of the National Drug Discovery Centre, making it the ideal partner for this project,” IFM Therapeutics CEO Dr Martin Seidel said.

“The nature of the high-throughput screen we developed with Professor Masters required a high degree of technical sophistication to pull off, and WEHI’s deep expertise and strong capabilities allowed the screen to be carried out with a high degree of skill and quality – the entire team was a pleasure to work with,” Dr Seidel said.

WEHI and IFM negotiated an innovative deal structure for the one-year research project, which takes a risk-sharing, incentives-based approach to delivering project outcomes. IFM has an exclusive option to acquire the results of the project. If IFM chooses not to exercise this option, WEHI will retain any resulting intellectual property in the hit compounds.

“I think partnerships like the one between WEHI and IFM are particularly important. Companies like IFM are well placed to adapt and develop new modalities and target new parts of the immune system,” Professor Masters said.

“By working with WEHI, IFM can use speedy and adaptive new technologies to develop drugs that target new pathways.”

The project is mutually beneficial, providing vital advances in basic science that can be used as a building block for further discoveries.

“We know that the immune system is important for lots of different diseases, but we don’t know what diseases these drug-like compounds might be effective against in the future, which is why basic research is so important.”

WEHI’s Head of Biotechnology and Commercialisation, Dr Anne-Laure Puaux, said the partnership provided new opportunities to advance medical research.

“IFM is a fantastic company to work with because they are bridging the gap between early-stage discovery research and the development of targeted therapeutics and have a proven capability to partner with large biopharmaceutical companies to bring innovation to patients,” she said.

“We are delighted to be working with IFM to make further advances in medical research and for WEHI to play a role in finding new drugs for the treatment of inflammatory diseases.”

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Illuminate Autumn 2024
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