UK-based biotechnology firm Engitix has signed a licensing and collaboration agreement with Takeda Pharmaceutical for the discovery and development of new drugs to treat fibrotic liver diseases.

The deal involves confirmation and validation of targets, as well as preclinical development of drug candidates for liver fibrosis using Engitix’s extracellular matrix (ECM) discovery platform.

Engitix’s platform integrates tissue and disease-specific human ECM into in-vitro models to maintain the natural cell microenvironment, enabling insights into human ECM’s bioactive role in regulating fibrosis progression.

Under the agreement, Takeda will hold exclusive rights to develop and commercialise clinical candidates against validated targets resulting from the alliance.

Takeda Pharmaceutical GI Drug Discovery Unit head Dr Gareth Hicks said: “There is a vital need for new treatments that will positively impact the lives of patients with advanced liver diseases.

“Engitix’s ECM platform offers a powerful tool for identifying and validating novel targets that will be valuable in the development of direct anti-fibrotic therapies.”

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Under the deal, Engitix will obtain an upfront instalment, along with near-term payments contingent on the confirmation and functional validation of selected targets.

The company will be eligible for more than $500m in preclinical, development, regulatory and commercial milestones, and additional sales royalties on commercialised products.

Engitix co-founder and CEO Dr Giuseppe Mazza said: “Having Takeda, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies with world-class drug development and commercialisation capabilities, as a major collaborator, will accelerate the translation of novel ECM-derived targets into potential therapeutics for humans.

“We are excited to continue working with Takeda as this is the only partnership in the field of liver fibrosis currently using a human disease-specific ECM platform, paving the way for potential first-in-class anti-fibrotic therapeutics.”

This deal comes after Takeda agreed to sell its Consumer Healthcare unit to investment firm The Blackstone Group for JPY242bn ($2.28bn).