US drug giant Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has formed a pact with Irish biotechnology group Opsona Therapeutics centered on developing drugs to treat inflammatory diseases.

The alliance will focus on compounds based on Toll-like receptor (TLR) targets, arising from technology developed at Trinity College Dublin by Professor Luke O’Neill. Commenting on the potential of TLR targets, Prof O’Neill said: “TLRs are critical initiators of inflammation and have been implicated in the development of chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosis, in addition to applications in other fields, including cancer and vaccines. Targeting TLRs with new drug candidates has tremendous potential as a new approach to treat such diseases.”

Under the terms of the deal, Opsona is due an upfront payment and could receive additional payments on achieving certain discovery and development milestones. In addition, the firm will get research and development funding and future sales-based royalties, and has retained an option to develop drugs derived from the collaboration for the treatment of topical indications.

Unveiling the new partnership at Trinity College yesterday, Ireland’s Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheal Martin, said: “Opsona Therapeutics and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals will collaborate to discover and develop new pharmaceuticals to treat inflammatory diseases, including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis,” as reported by

He went on to point out that the collaboration will provide an immediate boost to firm - by enabling it to effectively double the size of its drug discovery team to 20 - as well add muscle to the local biotechnology industry. Furthermore, he said that the deal is a reflection of the “excellent science and technology” being produced by local biotech groups and universities that is being recognised around the world.

This collaboration also reaffirms Wyeth’s continued investment in the Irish biotechnology sector, and follows a stream of recent big pharma-small biotech partnerships spurred by waning R&D pipelines and big product patent expiries.