Almirall and IRB Barcelona team up to tackle skin disease

by Stephen Riddle

Two Spanish pharma companies are joining forces to identify new oral treatments for immune-inflammatory skin diseases with high unmet medical needs.

Almirall and IRB Barcelona (the Institute for Research in Biomedicine), will conduct research using molecular glue degraders, a new approach to the skin diseases under scrutiny.

The use of monovalent degraders, which enable the targeted degradation of disease-relevant proteins, offers a new avenue to reach tissue that cannot be targeted with conventional therapeutic agents.

Researchers at Almirall have identified several proteins whose abnormal function is associated with inflammatory immune skin diseases. However, states the company, many of these potentially therapeutically relevant proteins are “not amenable to conventional small-molecule inhibitors, as they lack defined ligand-binding pockets”.

This is where molecular glue degraders come in. The hope is that they will harness and re-programme natural cellular mechanisms to selectively remove the disease driving proteins from human tissues, working by boosting interactions – gluing – between therapeutically relevant proteins and the machinery used by cells to naturally tag and destroy proteins.

IRB Barcelona’s Dr Cristina Mayor-Ruiz, who leads the firm’s Targeted Protein Degradation and Drug Discovery lab, was recently awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant for her work.

Dr Mayor-Ruiz, an expert on targeted protein degradation and pioneer investigator in the areas of the rational screening of molecular glues and their mechanism, says: “We are very excited about this collaboration with Almirall. It’s an amazing opportunity to put their knowledge and experience in dermatology, together with our expertise in molecular glues to accelerate drug discovery to treat skin diseases.

“The biochemical characteristics of molecular glues make them suitable candidates, and this innovative approach could really mark a turning point in dermatological pharmacology.”

Dr Thomas Huber, Almirall’s head of research, says the collaboration underlines the firm’s R&D commitment to provide innovative treatment options to patients suffering from severe skin diseases.

“It also builds on complementary core expertise of each partner to facilitate research and drug development.”

In December, Almirall reported positive news when its new investigational monoclonal antibody, Lebrikizumab, demonstrated significant skin improvement and itch relief when combined with topical corticosteroids in people with atopic dermatitis in a third phase 3 study.

Lebrikizumab met all primary and key secondary endpoints and its safety profile was consistent with prior lebrikizumab studies in atopic dermatitis.

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