CSL Behring snaps up a closely-held biotech partner and its IL-6 drug — for transplant rejection

Having closely watched and funded a Canadian biotech partner’s IL-6 drug for two and a half years, CSL Behring is snapping it all up.

The buyout of Vitaeris arrives as IL-6 — a proinflammatory interleukin typically associated with arthritis — has garnered interest as a potential culprit for the acute respiratory distress syndrome that plagues certain Covid-19 patients. CSL, though, says it’s still driven by the antibody’s potential for kidney transplant rejection.

Under the 2017 deal, in which CSL handed over $15 million cash and committed to R&D milestones, Vancouver-based Vitaeris would retain control of clazakizumab until the end of Phase III. That trial began late last year and is still recruiting; while results on the primary endpoint won’t arrive for at least five years, the Australian pharma clearly wants to remove any shred of uncertainty regarding its ownership down the road.

Bill Mezzanotte, the head of R&D, praised clazakizumab as a “promising” candidate to battle chronic antibody-mediated graft rejection in the transplant therapeutic area.

“Acquiring Vitaeris and their associate expertise helps us to continue to grow our strategic scientific platform of recombinant proteins and antibodies,” he said.

While short-term success rates of transplants have improved over the past two decades, long-term survival remains a challenge. For kidney allografts in particular, antibody-mediated rejection is the most common cause of failure, according to Vitaeris.

HBM Healthcare Investments was a founding investor of the biotech, helping license clazakizumab from Alder in 2016.

CSL842, another drug in its portfolio, goes after the same problem by inhibiting the complement C1-esterase. CSL964, meanwhile, is an α1-Antitrypsin targeted at acute graft-versus-host disease in patients undergoing an allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplant.

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