Billion-dollar autoimmune drug deal a ‘dream come true’ for Calgary researcher

With autoimmune diseases, the body’s own tissues are mistaken for harmful invaders and attacked

Dr. Pere Santamaria, a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and member of the university’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, poses in this undated handout photo. Parvis Therapeudics, the company Santamaria founded, and California-based company Genetech have reached a billion-dollar deal to develop a potential treatment for celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other autoimmune diseases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - University of Calgary, Riley Brandt

A University of Calgary researcher says he’s hopeful a deal worth up to $1 billion between his drug company and a U.S. biotechnology firm could one day lead to autoimmune disease treatments that don’t make patients more vulnerable to infections or cancer.

“It’s kind of a dream come true that I can play a role in this process and realize something that might perhaps help a lot of people,” said Pere Santamaria, founder of Parvus Therapeutics and a professor at the university’s Cumming School of Medicine.

Parvus announced a working and licensing agreement Thursday with California-based Genentech to develop, manufacture and commercialize a class of drugs known as Navacims to potentially treat celiac, autoimmune liver and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Parvus is to get an upfront payment from Genentech and further payments as certain milestones are reached. The companies are not disclosing precisely how the funds are to be broken down or over what time period. Parvus is also eligible to get royalty payments on sales that result from the deal.

READ MORE: Legalization sparks boom in field of marijuana research

The immune system is meant to protect the body from bacteria, viruses and cancer. But in people with autoimmune diseases, the body’s own tissues are mistaken for harmful invaders and attacked.

Current treatments work by suppressing the immune system as a whole, which makes patients less able to fight off infections and cancer.

Navacims, discovered by Santamaria and his team in 2004, use nanoparticles to switch off autoimmune attacks in a way that doesn’t compromise the body’s overall disease-fighting abilities.

Santamaria said the treatments have been tested extensively in mice with promising results. The deal with Genentech will go toward clinical trials in humans. Parvus will be responsible for initial small-scale tests. Genentech will take on subsequent studies in larger groups and, if successful, the regulatory work needed to bring the drug to market.

The companies aren’t disclosing when the trials will be done, but Santamaria said time is of the essence.

“It’ll take some time, but resources will be brought to bear so that this can be accelerated as fast as we can to get these drugs to patients in need.”

Parvus teamed up with another drug firm, Novartis, in 2017 to develop Navacims as a potential treatment for Type 1 diabetes.

Santamaria said bringing Navacims to market without the resources and know-how from larger partners would be inconceivable.

“It’s been a tough, long haul with a lot of challenges and hurdles in many aspects.”

University of Calgary president Ed McCauley said the big-ticket investment affirms how important it is to invest in fundamental research.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “The discoveries we are making are actually being mobilized to help society.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Ponoka Silver Valley 4H Riders visit Nova Scotia

Local 4-H club enjoys the second leg of their club to club exchange

TRC impressed with first time finals showcase in Ponoka

Huge team roping event brings in big numbers — riders and prize money

Maskwacis now has permanent library

Only one of two in province

Ponoka County dealing with extraordinary rise in outstanding taxes

Nearly $4 million in property taxes, penalties remain unpaid

VIDEO: Trudeau asks Canada to look to current, not past, actions on race

Liberal leader says he never spoke about the racist photo because he was embarrassed

Walmart to quit selling e-cigarettes amid vaping backlash

U.S.’s largest retailer points to ‘growing’ complications in federal, state and local regulations

Trudeau seeks meeting with Singh to apologize for blackface, brownface photos

‘I will be apologizing to him personally as a racialized Canadian,’ Trudeau said Friday

Charges stayed against Alberta RCMP officer in alleged off-duty Whistler assault

Const. Vernon Hagen instead completed an alternative measures program

‘Unacceptable’: What politicians have to say about Trudeau in blackface

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: ‘When I saw that picture last night, certainly it was a sucker-punch’

Judge finds Alberta couple not guilty in toddler son’s death

It was the second trial for the Stephans, who were found guilty by a jury in 2016

Alberta couple charged in toddler son’s death to learn fate from judge

David and Collet Stephan are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life

Alberta government pitching that small rural areas pay for policing: NDP

Those 291 districts represent about 20 per cent of the Alberta population

Alberta inquiry into oil and gas foes could face legal challenge from Ecojustice

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly accused U.S. charities of bankrolling efforts

Most Read