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Orca Pharmaceuticals has signed a three-year collaboration agreement with AstraZeneca to develop inhibitors of retinoic acid-related orphan nuclear receptor gamma (ROR ?).

Inhibitors being developed will be used to treat autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Orca Pharmaceuticals CEO and co-founder Dr Michael Hunter said: "We are delighted that AstraZeneca has recognised the potential of the Orca programme in a space where the identification of inhibitors with drug-like properties has proven challenging.

Under the agreement’s terms, AstraZeneca is being provided access to ROR ? inhibitors developed by Orca, and will incorporate these into its in-house programme.

"The deal will allow Orca to receive an upfront and milestone payments of about $122.5m from AstraZeneca, dependent on the success of their ROR ? inhibitors."

The deal will allow Orca to receive an upfront and milestone payments of about $122.5m from AstraZeneca, dependent on the success of their ROR ? inhibitors in the programme.

AstraZeneca has been provided an option to acquire the Orca compounds at the collaboration’s end.

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Scientists from both firms will work together to identify lead compounds from this programme for progression and characterise the autoimmune condition the compounds that are better suited.

Orca noted that ROR ? helps to convert a population of immune cells called CD4+ T cells into T-helper 17 (TH17) cells, which produce chemicals (cytokines) that drive the immune response.

AstraZeneca respiratory, inflammation and autoimmune diseases innovative medicines unit head Dr Maarten Kraan said: "We are delighted to be partnering with Orca Pharmaceuticals in this hot area of immunology science to help us create potentially best-in-class chemical assets and candidate drugs for patients who currently do not have any oral medicines available to treat their chronic conditions."

Image: AstraZeneca’s R&D site in Mölndal, Sweden. Photo: courtesy of Erik031.