AstraZeneca and Orca Pharmaceuticals announce research collaboration to identify best-in-class RORγ inhibitors to treat auto-immune diseases

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

AstraZeneca and Orca Pharmaceuticals, a UK based biopharmaceutical company, today announced a three year collaboration to develop inhibitors of retinoic acid–related orphan nuclear receptor gamma (RORγ). Inhibitors of this receptor are believed to have potential against a wide range of autoimmune diseases for which there is currently no safe, effective oral treatment.

RORγ plays a key role in the immune system. Specifically, it helps to convert a population of immune cells called CD4+ T cells into T-helper 17 (TΗ17) cells which, in turn, produce chemicals (cytokines) that drive the immune response. However, excessive activity of TH17 cells and other RORγ+ immune cells has been implicated in a wide range of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca will gain access to RORγ inhibitors developed by Orca Pharmaceuticals and will integrate those into its in-house programme. Scientists from AstraZeneca and Orca Pharmaceuticals will work closely together to progress the programme and AstraZeneca has the option to acquire the Orca compounds at the end of the collaboration.

Dr Michael Hunter, CEO and Co-Founder of Orca Pharmaceuticals said: “We are delighted that AstraZeneca has recognised the potential of the Orca programme in a space where the identification of inhibitors with drug-like properties has proven challenging. To have the backing and experience of AstraZeneca makes this programme even more competitive as we move forward to deliver best-in-class medicines in this area.”

Dr Maarten Kraan, Head of the Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases Innovative Medicines unit, AstraZeneca said: “Respiratory, inflammation and autoimmune diseases represent a main therapeutic area for AstraZeneca. We are delighted to be partnering with Orca Pharmaceuticals in this hot area of immunology science to help us create potentially best-in-class candidate drugs for patients who currently do not have any oral medicines available to treat their chronic conditions.”


About Orca Pharmaceuticals

Orca Pharmaceuticals (Orca) is a biopharmaceutical company which is working to develop small molecule anti-inflammatory drugs to treat patients with severe autoimmune disease. The Company’s technology is focused on RORγ nuclear hormone receptor targets and its lead therapeutic programme is in psoriasis. Orca was founded by Dr Mick Hunter, Dr Roy Pettipher, Dr Mark Payton, Professor Dan Littman and Dr Jun Huh. The Company is managed by Dr Mick Hunter (CEO) and Dr Roy Pettipher (CSO). Founded in 2013, Orca is supported by investment from BioMotiv (, the for-profit accelerator aligned with the Harrington Project for Discovery & Development and NYU Innovation Ventures Fund. For more information please visit:

About AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca is a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammation, autoimmune, oncology, infection and neuroscience diseases. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. For more information please visit:


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