The Pharma’ giant, through its biologics division MedImmune, will receive an upfront payment of $450m (€430m) from Celgene which will take the lead on development of the monoclonal antibody, currently in Phase III trials for non-small cell lung cancer and head and neck cancer.
Under the terms of the deal, Celgene will fully cover development costs until the end of 2016, and then after that will pay 75%. MedImmune will manufacture and recognise product sales once commercialized and will pay royalties to Celgene.
PD-L1 is a molecule co-opted by cancer cells to suppress the natural immune response to cancer in the body, but human IgG1 monoclonal antibodies such as MEDI4736 bind to the the PD-L1 to help prevent this.
The first anti-PD-1 (programmed death receptor-1) approved in the US was Merck & Co.’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab), which received licence for use in patients with metastatic melanoma last September.
During a call discussing AstraZeneca’s first quarter results on Friday, Luke Miels, Executive VP Global Product and Portfolio Strategy, added some more colour to the decision to partner with Celgene.
“I would potentially understand the challenge if we had partnered with a sort of a company that has no expertise in haematology, but when you partner with a company like Celgene, what it does is hopefully, send a signal that we have a great product,” he told investors.
He also denied this was a case of AstraZeneca divesting its pipeline: “The financials are helpful, but if we needed to generate short-term profit, we have many, many other options to divest whatever products that are not part of our core.
“The financials are helpful, but if we needed to generate short-term profit, we have many, many other options believe me to divest whatever products that are not part of our core, I mean, all the companies have done that in the past.
“We’re kind of creating value long-term with this haematology focus. Hopefully, over time people understand the difference that it will create for PD-L1 in haematology. Here, we have a chance to win the race and be a real leader in that field.”