Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) - Get Report and Amgen (AMGN) - Get Report , in separate partnership deals announced Tuesday, expanded their research programs focused on developing new methods to train the immune system to target and kill cancer.
Financial terms of both deals are on the small side and involve drug research that has not yet advanced into human clinical trials. But the new deals also signal a long-term commitment from two of the largest biotech companies to focus on cancer immunotherapy as a platform for future growth.
Amgen is paying $65 million to license worldwide rights to a technology from Advaxis (ADXS) - Get Report to manufacture a new type of immunotherapy which activates a patient's immune system to target unique mutations, or neo-epitopes, found in an individual patient's tumor.
Advaxis calls this platform ADXS-NEO. It involves taking a sample of a patient's tumor and sequencing to find unique mutations. A harmless bacteria is then engineered to express these patient-specific tumor mutations. When the personalized ADXS-NEO therapy is infused back into the patient, it stimulates an immune system response which find and kills the cancer cells.
Or, so that's the way Advaxis believes ADXS-NEO will work. Studies in humans are expected to begin next year.
Under terms of the deal, Amgen is paying $40 million to Advaxis for worldwide rights to ADXS-NEO and will buy $25 million in the company's stock.
Advaxis is eligible to receive up to another $475 million in future payments tied to the successful clinical development and commercial sales of ADXS-NEO. Advaxis will also receive royalties on sales of any therapies if approved.
Shares of Advaxis rose 32% to $11.21 in Tuesday trading on news of the Amgen partnership.
On its own and through other partnerships, including with Merck, Advaxis is developing other bacteria-based cancer immunotherapies. Amgen, too, is also heavily invested in other areas of cancer immunotherapy. In late 2014, the company successfully developed and secured approval of Blincyto, a so-called "bi-specific antibody" which is used to treat a type of blood cancer. Blincyto works by linking a specific protein on a tumor cell with receptors on a T cell in the immune system.
The Regeneron partnership announced Tuesday is with privately held Adicet Bio and involves work to create re-engineered T cell therapies targeting blood cancers and solid tumors. These are similar to the CAR-T therapies being developed by Juno Therapeutics and Kite Pharma, except they will not require personalization to each individual patient. Instead, they'll be "off the shelf," meaning a single product could be used by all cancer patients.
Regeneron and Adicet are also exploring ways to engineer T cells so they can target and kill targets on the surface of cancer cells as well as inside cancer cells. The latter is believed to be more important to finding effective therapies against solid tumors.
Like with Amgen and Advaxis, the cell therapy research that is the focus of the Regeneron and Adicet collaboration is in the very early days. Human clinical trials have not started.
Regeneron is paying Adicet $25 million plus research funding for five years in exchange for rights to the new cellular cancer immunotherapies.
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