US-based Gencia has collaborated with Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical to discover and develop a new class of small molecule drugs to treat hematological and inflammatory diseases.

The compounds called mitochondrial agonists of the glucocorticoid receptor (MAGR) may offer the therapeutic potential of conventional glucocorticoid drugs (steroids).

As part of the deal, the companies will carry out joint research and development for two preclinical drug candidates, one in inflammation and the other in oncology.

The deal will see Takeda gain the exclusive right to advance each candidate into clinical trials.

"We expect to change the paradigm for how patients are treated by potentially avoiding the issues that result from long-term steroid use."

For the two compounds, Gencia will receive upfront payments and preclinical milestones totalling $500m, and will also secure royalties on any sales of commercialised products.

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Gencia president and chief executive officer Allen Cunningham said: "Takeda’s strength in drug discovery and development, and in particular their commitment to oncology and inflammation drug research, provides Gencia with the opportunity to advance our mitochondrial targeting platform and MAGR compounds into the clinic, and ultimately to patients in need of these therapies."

Used in frontline, combination, maintenance and relapse therapy, the glucocorticoid drugs can be effective in hematological and inflammatory diseases, however serious side-effects can limit their use.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Research Division head and general manager Tetsuyuki Maruyama said: "We are delighted to partner with Gencia to create new medicines designed to be chemically and functionally different from steroids, but that may still be effective in treating a broad spectrum of diseases for which chronic steroids are currently prescribed.

"We expect to change the paradigm for how patients are treated by potentially avoiding the issues that result from long-term steroid use."

Gencia’s MAGR agonists have indicated activity in several steroid-sensitive and steroid-resistant pharmacology models.

Under the deal, Gencia and Takeda will evaluate possible therapeutic uses of MAGRs and the potential for their safe chronic use.