AbbVie inks exclusive deal with I-Mab for cancer drug

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Gerasimov174
© GettyImages/Gerasimov174

Related tags Immuno-oncology Monoclonal antibody

AbbVie has boosted its immunotherapy pipeline in a global licensing deal with Chinese biotech, I-Mab, for its anti-CD47 monoclonal antibody, lemzoparlimab.

AbbVie will have exclusive global rights, excluding China, to develop and commercialize lemzoparlimab.

The companies are set to share manufacturing responsibilities with AbbVie being the primary manufacturer for global supply, and there is potential to expand the collaboration to additional transformative therapies. Each party will have the opportunity subject to further licenses to explore each other's related programs in their respective territories, said the partners.

Financial implications

I-Mab, a developer focusing on biologics for immuno-oncology and auto-immune diseases through its R&D capabilities, will receive an upfront payment of $180m, under the terms of the deal. AbbVie will also pay I-Mab $20m in a milestone payment based on Phase 1 studies of the drug.

The Chinese company will also be eligible to receive up to $1.74bn in success-based milestone payments for lemzoparlimab, of which $840m are linked to clinical development and regulatory approval milestones.

Upon regulatory approval and commercialization of the drug, AbbVie will also pay tiered royalties from low-to-mid teen percentages on global net sales outside of greater China.  

Time to market 

Jingwu Zang, founder and director, of Shanghai based I-Mab said that by leveraging the combined development strength of the two companies, the deal can speed lemzoparlimab to market for patients in need around the world. 

"Cancer is the second-leading cause of death globally and the need for novel cancer therapies has never been more acute. The addition of I-Mab's novel CD47 programs complements our global clinical strategy in hematology and immuno-oncology,"​ said Thomas J Hudson, senior vice president of R&D and chief scientific officer, AbbVie.

Targeting tumor cells

I-Mab sees the anti-CD47 monoclonal antibody, lemzoparlimab, which was discovered and developed internally for the treatment of multiple cancers, as one of its leading pipeline drug candidates. It is designed to minimize inherent binding to normal red blood cells while preserving its strong anti-tumor activity.

CD47 is a cell surface protein over-expressed in a wide variety of cancers and can act in a way to protect tumors by delivering a signal to otherwise tumor-engulfing macrophages. CD47 antibody blocks this signal and enables macrophages to attack tumor cells, making it a potentially promising cancer drug, says AbbVie.

However, the company noted development of CD47 antibody as a cancer therapy can be hampered by its hematologic side effects, such as severe anemia, caused by natural binding of CD47 antibody to red blood cells. It outlined how I-Mab’s CD47 antibody, lemzoparlimab, works efficiently to target tumor cells though while exerting a minimal untoward effect on red blood cells to avoid severe anemia.

Lemzoparlimab's hematologic safety advantage and anti-tumor activities have been demonstrated previously in a series of robust pre-clinical studies, it continued. And topline results of the recent phase 1 clinical trial confirm possible differentiation of lemzoparlimab in drug safety and a more favorable pharmacokinetics profile in cancer patients, reported AbbVie.

Pipeline development

AbbVie has been busy of late in terms of strategic pipeline development deals.

June this year saw it enter a $3.8bn partnership with Genmab to collaborate on that developer’s lead bispecific antibody treatment and develop further candidates.

Through that deal, AbbVie gains access to is epcoritamab, which is a bispecific antibody being explored for the treatment of various B cell malignancies.

As a result of the antibody’s ability to target CD20, which is expressed on a majority of B cell malignancies, Genmab is trialing the antibody against chronic lymphocytic leukemia, diffuse large B cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, and mantle cell lymphoma. 

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