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

Stettler hosts U-19 women’s softball teams in Western Canadian Championship

Stettler Storm will be amongst teams in championship

Local violinist returned home to receive a special honour

Angelina Gandolfo (Weber) received a Clearview Public Schools 2019 Award of Merit

Castor Rodeo bows for 42nd after successful 2019 event

This year featured a pair of competitors from Australia and a competitor from New Zealand

Castor resident meets award-winning namesake

Luella Kowalsky, who is a resident of Castor’s Paintearth Lodge, met ‘Miss Luella’ recently

Police investigate Castor break and enter

Performance Paint and Body Shop trailer broken into on July 5th

VIDEO: Reports say Lashana Lynch is the new 007

Daniel Craig will reprise his role as Bond one last time

RCMP investigating alleged ‘sexual misconduct’ by cyclist on BCIT campus

BCIT said they were reviewing video evidence of the incident

Graphic suicide scene edited out of ‘13 Reasons Why’ finale

Suicide prevention groups support the decision

High-speed rail link would run from Vancouver to Seattle in under 1 hour: study

Annual ridership is projected to exceed three million

Asylum figures show overall slower rate of irregular crossings into Canada

Between January and June 2019, a total of 6,707 asylum seekers crossed irregularly into Canada

Diversity a Canadian strength, Trudeau says of Trump tweets at congresswomen

Trudeau avoided using Trump’s name when he was asked about the president’s Twitter comments

Garneau ‘disappointed’ in airlines’ move against new passenger bill of rights

New rules codified compensation for lost luggage, overbooked flights

Canadian is detained in China on drug allegations: Chinese government

Detention of a Canadian in China comes as part a diplomatic dispute triggered by arrest of Huawei exec Meng Wanzhou

Too much time on social media can hurt teens’ mental health: study

Researchers conducted a four-year survey of more than 3,800 adolescents between Grades 7 and 11

Most Read