Novartis first entered into an agreement with Immunogen in October 2010, paying the firm $45m (€33m) for use of its ADC technology. So far this year, Novartis has taken out three license agreements for specified targets at a cost of $1m each, with a potential payout of $200m in future milestones and royalties.
As the race to develop the next generation of cancer drugs heats up amongst big biopharma – Roche, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, for example, have all been investing of late – Biopharma-Reporter.com asked Immunogen why Novartis chose its technology platform.
“To our knowledge, there are only two ADC technologies with clinical/regulatory validation: ImmunoGen’s is validated by Kadcyla and Seattle Genetics’ is validated by Adcetris,” spokesperson Carol Hausner told us.
“Validation is important because the concept of ADCs goes back to the advent of monoclonal antibodies in the 1970s – like so much, it’s actually getting every part right that’s the challenge.”
The Sciencey Part
“There are important differences between ImmunoGen’s technology and that of Seattle Genetics, but – at the end of the day – there is plenty of room for both companies in the ADC space,” she added.
Immunogen uses a monoclonal antibody – whether its own compound or one of its partners – to deliver its cytotoxic agents specifically to cancer cells bearing the antibody's antigen target, Hausner continued.
“All ADCs with our technology in the clinic today use one of our tubulin-acting cytotoxic agents,” she said. “How the cytotoxic agent is released inside the cell and its properties after release depend on which of our linkers was selected. We find the best design - linker, cytotoxic agent pairing - varies depending on the antigen target.”
As well as Novartis, Amgen and Eli Lilly have also struck licensing agreements with Immunogen in the past year, and Sanofi and Bayer are also both on the company’s books.
Such attraction by the larger players to Immunogen is due to the need to de-risk and shorten the timelines of ADC programmes, Hausner said.
“It is actually quite hard to achieve highly potent cytotoxic agents that can be attached to antibodies, linkers that provide the right release properties for different targets, and a method of reproducible attachment of the linker/cytotoxic agent to an antibody without disrupting the antibody.
“And, of course, there are challenges to do this without violating our patents and those of others.”