ADC deal making thrives as companies look to future of cancer treatment

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/adamgault
Pic:getty/adamgault

Related tags: Merck, Antibody drug conjugates, Gilead

The antibody drug conjugate market has had a busy few years, as the appetite for acquisitions of ADC-specialists began to grow, with Gilead buying Immunomedics and Merck acquiring VelosBio.

According to reports​, the latter company looks set to make another move, with talks on-going between Merck and Seagen, a biotech focused on antibody drug conjugate (ADC) development, around a potential buyout.

Should the deal happen, it is likely to be a huge figure involved – with Seagen having a market cap of approximately $30bn (€28.4bn). However, if the acquisition were to provide Merck a leading position in the next-generation of ADCs and in developing the next wave of treatments in cancer, it could prove to be excellent value for money.

Merck’s lead product is cancer treatment Keytruda (pembrolizumab), which brought in sales of $17.2bn in the company’s full year 2021 results. However, patent protection on the products runs out in 2028, which will leave a gap in sales that will need filling, and this is where a well-stocked pipeline of ADCs may help.

Growing interest

There is more interest in the area than ever due to the wave of approvals of ‘third generation’ ADCs, which saw ADC Therapeutics​ and Seagen​ get the nod for their treatments in 2021.

As a result, ADC-focused companies have already seen a lot of activity in 2022, with the beginning of the year seeing a number of smaller scale partnerships established​. One of the reasons behind this is the volume of activity on ADCs being carried out in the biotech space​.

One example of this is Spirea, a UK biotech that was spun out of the University of Cambridge, which recently announced that it had secured funding to enable the development of its pipeline of ADC therapeutics.

Dr Adam Collier, chief business officer at Spirea, explained to BioPharma-Reporter why ADCs are attracting such interest: “ADCs are a great drug concept, as they combine the potent tumour killing activity of a small molecule with the tumour targeting of an antibody. In theory, they should replace the poorly tolerated chemotherapy agents currently in such wide use.”

He went on to add that there is still work needing to be done to optimize the potential of ADCs, in order to maximize their efficacy and reduce side-effects.

It is the latter point that had previously held the ADC space back – the first such treatment approved had been Pfizer’s Mylotarg (gemtuzumab ozogamicin) in 2000, but it was voluntarily withdrawn from the market due to safety concerns. However, the treatment was re-approved in 2017, after the US FDA deemed a new dosing regimen as showing enough benefits to outweigh the risks.

“Improvements in drug stability, targeting and drug release technologies are all contributing to greater success,”​ Myriam Marie Ouberai, CEO of Spirea, stated on developments in the field. “Spirea believes that its technology, which permits the use of lower potency payloads at higher loading, will enable a dramatic jump in the number of ADCs reaching patients.”

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