Evotec extends Takeda pact to gene therapy

Evotec is building a gene therapy R&D center manned by ex-Takeda scientists and has already landed a multi-year drug discovery pact for it with their former Japanese employer.

Evotec is expanding into the field of gene therapy by building an R&D center in Austria using scientists previously employed by Takeda, whose first project will be a long-term research and discovery project with their former Japanese employer, exploring oncology, rare diseases, neuroscience and gastroenterology.

The entry by the German discovery alliance and development partnership group into gene therapy further expands its capabilities beyond small molecules, cellular therapies and biologics while the research alliance with Takeda Pharmaceutical, announced on 6 April, builds upon an existing collaboration begun last September around drug discovery programs in which Evotec will deliver clinical candidates for Takeda to pursue into clinical development.

Image: iStock/sittithat tangwitthayaphum

“This addition of gene therapy is the latest step in a very long strategy at Evotec to build a truly comprehensive organization which can deliver medicines discovery and development right across the different modalities, or scientific tools, that we see in modern medicine today,” Evotec chief operating officer Craig Johnstone told Scrip.

He said the move was consistent with Evotec’s two-pronged drug discovery strategy, which uses the Hamburg-based group’s so-called ‘Execute’ segment allying with external pharma partners which in turn supports reinvestment into Evotec’s internal pipeline within its so-called ‘Innovate’ segment.

“This allows us to bring gene therapy project concepts into the Evotec Innovate pipeline at our choice and discretion. That was not possible before, so we can now use gene therapy to support our partners and also use it to support ourselves.”

Johnstone said Evotec already makes broad use of CRISPR in its discovery and development activities. “This will only amplify that aspect of Evotec’s activities,” he added.

Evotec Gene Therapy (Evotec GT) will start operations with a team of gene therapy experts at an R&D site in Orth an der Donau, Austria. Its scientists have deep expertise in vectorology and virology as well as disease insights, in particular in hemophilia, hematology, metabolic and muscle diseases.

“We are recruiting the team, which will be composed of ex-Takeda employees. Its leadership has a long history in gene therapy stretching back years and to legacy organizations Baxalta and Shire which were acquired by Takeda, but who were made redundant. We’ll be bringing them all on board over the next eight weeks,” Johnstone said. Friedrich Scheiflinger, previously head of drug discovery for Takeda in Austria, will head up the new gene therapy unit.

No financial details were disclosed about Evotec’s latest collaboration with Takeda.

“It’s a fairly straight-forward contractual framework that has been agreed between Evotec and Takeda,” Johnstone said, without elaborating.

This article was first published on 6 April 2020 in Scrip

Sten Stovall is a London-based editor and writer with 40 years of experience in the field of journalism, including more than 20 years with Reuters and eight years with The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Newswires. He can be reached at sten.stovall@informa.com

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