Days after ending development of a cancer drug with Genmab, Roche has told Actelion that it is pulling out of their pact.

The Swiss major is withdrawing from an alliance it had with Actelion to develop the latter’s selective sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor 1 (S1P1) agonist. Roche has decided to “prioritise its other projects in the area of autoimmune disorders” following a portfolio review that began after it recently completed a $46.8 billion buyout of Genentech.

Actelion’s share price has slipped on the news but the company has noted that Roche’s exit from the collaboration has nothing to do with safety issues. Indeed, the Allschwil-headquartered group noted that it will press ahead with advanced clinical development of the S1P1 receptor agonist called ACT-128800 in psoriasis.

The decision to continue is based on a recently-concluded Phase IIa trial and although that short-term study did not reach statistical significance, Actelion says “sufficient information was obtained to proceed with a first pivotal study in psoriasis”. ACT-128800 is also in a 400-patient Phase IIb study for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

Actelion and Roche started collaborating in July 2006 on the S1P1 receptor agonists and the former will book $88.7 million in deferred revenue from the initial agreement, which included an upfront payment from Roche of $105 million, over the next six months. Actelion chief executive Jean-Paul Clozel said he is convinced the treatment, which is an oral and rapidly reversible immunotherapy, “has the potential to improve therapy” and could have “a wider safety margin compared to other therapies currently available or in development, whether they are long-acting biological immunosuppressive or other oral approaches”.
As for Roche, pulling out of the Actelion pact and dropping development of a Genmab monoclonal antibody which was in Phase II trials for multiple indications, including sarcoma and non-small cell lung cancer, shows that the task of trimming its R&D pipeline is well underway and analysts believe that more compounds are likely to be culled.