Takeda ends deal with Finch as bumpy ride continues for microbiome drugs

Takeda has ended a long-running deal with Finch Therapeutics to develop microbiome-based medicines for inflammatory bowel disease, the latest in a string of setbacks the biotechnology company has suffered since going public last year.

Following a strategic review of its pipeline, Takeda said it plans to terminate a 2017 deal with Finch, handing back rights to two experimental, oral medicines in preclinical testing for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The decision will take effect on Nov. 17, and also includes potential rights to future prospects for the autoimmune condition, Finch said Thursday.

Microbiome drugs are designed to change the interactions between the body and the microbes that inhabit it. The approach is viewed as a way to treat a wide range of conditions, from cancer to inflammatory diseases, and multiple experimental programs have made notable progress in recent years. Seres Therapeutics, one of the field’s pioneering companies, soon plans to complete an approval application for what could be the first marketed microbiome-based therapy — a drug for a type of bacterial infection. Similar drugs from Finch and Rebiotix, which Ferring Pharmaceuticals acquired in 2018, have shown promise as well.

The potential for microbiome therapies to treat more common diseases has drawn the interest of several large drugmakers like Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Gilead and AstraZeneca. Takeda has been particularly active, signing deals with Finch, Enterome, Debiopharm and Nubiyota that each involved researching drugs for autoimmune conditions and gastrointestinal diseases.

In spite of these deals, the microbiome field hasn’t delivered many successes in clinical testing, as multiple companies have had problems along the way. An experimental Seres treatment, for example, failed an ulcerative colitis study last year that was seen as a key proof point for microbiome drug research.

Meanwhile, Kaleido Biosciences, another well-funded developer of microbiome therapeutics, announced plans to wind down in April. And Finch has seen its share price fall nearly 90% since raising $128 million in an initial public offering in March 2021 amid regulatory issues that led to a restructuring and job cuts. Now the biotech has lost its only industry partnership, too.

Finch’s deal began with one prospect, now known as TAK-524, along with rights to future drugs. A second candidate, FIN-525, later emerged. Both are cocktails of bacterial strains packed into a pill and designed to treat forms of inflammatory bowel disease. Regulatory filings show that Finch could have received up to $354 million in total payments for each of them, but the biotech said Thursday that it ended up receiving about $44 million, mostly in reimbursed research and development expenses.

In an email to BioPharma Dive, a Takeda spokesperson said the company “remains interested” in microbiome-targeting drugs and is continuing to advance other programs. Its deals with Debiopharm and Enterome are still active, and the drug at the center of the latter partnership is currently in mid-stage testing for Crohn’s disease. But Takeda is ending its Finch deal as well as its collaboration with Nubiyota, the spokesperson said.  

Finch CEO Mark Smith said in a statement the company plans to seek other partners to advance the two drugs. Finch is now reviewing its portfolio and “assessing the financial and strategic impact” of losing the partnership, Smith added.

Finch shares fell 5%, to $2.50 apiece, in early trading on Friday.

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