Biotrinity 2016

Partnerships leading the way for Biopharma's immuno-oncology pipeline

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Speakers from AbbVie, BMS, Juno, AZ and Merck were among the panelists at Biotrinity in London, UK
Speakers from AbbVie, BMS, Juno, AZ and Merck were among the panelists at Biotrinity in London, UK

Related tags Pharmacology

Three deals in the last week signal AbbVie’s strategy in immuno-oncology but are just the latest examples of Big Biopharma’s trend for clinical partnerships.

Last week, AbbVie signed a trio of collaborations in the immune-oncology (I-O) space: a preclinical-stage human antibody programme with Belgium’s argenx worth up to $685m, a deal with CytomX Therapeutics to co-develop a probody (‘masked’ antibody) drug conjugate​ potentially worth $500m, and a five-year agreement with the University of Chicago to expedite discovery of I-O candidates.

Speaking at Biotrinity in London Tuesday, AbbVie senior director Niels Emmerich said: “These deals are strategically aligned with regards to AbbVie’s commitment to oncology and to growing our oncology pipeline.”

He added they show AbbVie has “an interest in further expanding these areas of immune-oncology and drug-conjugates and, more generally, in tapping into top tier scientific expertise.”

Emmerich was speaking as part of a panel discussion focused on the scale of partnerships between Big Biopharma and small biotech in this area, and while the two co-development deal shows AbbVie’s intent, it pales in significance to Merck & Co. (known as MSD outside North America) which has close to 80 clinical collaborations on the go with smaller firms.

“Merck has taken the view that we can’t own the entire waterfront and it is not practical or cheap to do this in this class,”​ SVP of business development and licensing Iain Dukes told delegates.

“So we have taken a different strategy to do a lot of clinical collaborations with pretty much every mechanism you can think of. We have close to 80 clinical collaborations ongoing, with more coming in.”

He continued, adding that while the firm takes each collaboration on a case-by-case basis, Merck has looked to acquire its partners when candidates reach late stage development  but will occasionally step in and acquire “intriguing”​ assets, as it did when it bought early-stage UK-based cancer drug discovery firm IOmet Pharma in January​.

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s SVP for drug discovery Carl Decicco said his firm also looked to partner first and acquire second in the I-O space, citing the example of Medarex which was bought for $2.1bn in 2009.

“We worked closely with [Medarex] and had established a good relationship with the team. Our antibody partnership matured and therefore we bought them when the time was right.”

Furthermore, such a strategy saw the Big Biopharma firm ink a right-to-buy deal last August with clinical stage immunotherapy company Promedior worth up to $1.25bn.

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