UniQuest Pty Ltd, the technology transfer and commercialisation business of The University of Queensland (UQ), today announced it has signed a research and development (R&D) and license agreement with Janssen Cilag Pty Limited (Janssen), one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, to identify, develop and commercialise small molecule modulators of a biological target identified by UQ as being important for the treatment of ankylosing spondylitis, and potentially psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Under the terms of the agreement, UniQuest and UQ will be responsible for carrying out the three-year drug discovery program aimed at identifying and optimising novel small molecule modulators of the target in collaboration with Janssen immunology scientists. Janssen will receive exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialise the drug candidates.

Professor Matt Brown and researchers at The University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute will identify small molecule candidates using their assay and biological models. The resulting hit molecules will then be optimised for potency and selectivity using medicinal chemistry and disease models developed at UQ. UniQuest and UQ will project manage the project from hit identification through to lead optimisation. The three-year collaboration seeks to capitalise on the expertise of Professor Matt Brown at The University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute in relation to ankylosing spondylitis and the drug discovery and development expertise of Janssen.

Professor Matt Brown commented “Ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease are conditions that affect 2-3% of the world’s population and for which there is a great need for better treatments. We are pleased Janssen to collaborate with Janssen and together focus on discovery and develop new treatments for ankylosing spondylitis. We are excited to combine our years of understanding of the disease with that of Janssen, and their drug discovery capabilities.”

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss welcomed the collaboration. “We are delighted with this small molecule drug discovery collaboration with Janssen. UQ is proud of its research excellence and recognizes the importance of collaborations with industry to translate into future medicines for patients.

“This is the third major R&D collaboration between UQ/UniQuest and Janssen and follows agreements with the Dendright technology for rheumatoid arthritis and the spider venom project to identify peptides as potential treatments for pain. We look forward to further opportunities to collaborate together.”

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis which particularly affects the spine, although it can also affect other parts of the body, including joints, tendons and eyes. Ankylosing spondylitis tends to start at a young age with a peak onset in the 25-34 year age group is about 16 per 100,000 adults. About 75% of cases are in men.

Ankylosing spondylitis can be difficult to diagnose because the first symptom is often recurring back pain and stiffness that slowly gets worse, and which can be ignored by the patient or their doctors. If untreated, it can result in all the bones of the spine becoming fused and totally inflexible.

To date there is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis and treatment focusses on lessening the symptoms including non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and biologic therapies to reduce the pain and inflammation.

Also involved in the project are collaborators from St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research via an agreement with UniQuest.

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