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AbbVie boosts immuno-oncology pipeline with $685m Argenx deal

Buys rights to immuno-suppressive antibody and will fund further research
AbbVie

Small Belgian biotech Argenx has scored a $685m licensing deal with AbbVie for an immuno-oncology candidate still in preclinical development.

AbbVie is paying $40m upfront for rights to ARGX-115, an antibody targeting a membrane protein - called GARP that is thought to contribute to the immuno-suppressive effects of regulatory T cells (Tregs) - as well as another $20m if it meets preclinical objectives.

The Belgian company also stands to receive up to $625m in development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments, as well as royalties on sales. It has also retained co-promotion rights to ARGX-115 in Europe.

Argenx developed ARGX-115 in collaboration with the Duve Institute at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, where a research team led by Sophie Lucas and Pierre Coulie has been at the forefront of research into GARP-related pathways and their relevance in oncology.

Tregs generally prevent unwanted immune responses such as autoimmune reactions, but are also thought to play a role in 'escape pathways' that prevent malignant cells from being discovered and destroyed by the immune system.

This resistance to the immune system eventually appears during cancer progression, due to the build-up of an immunosuppressive environment within the tumours themselves, and seems to be mediated by a cytokine called TGF-beta.

High levels of TGF-beta in the tumour inhibit white blood cells that would ordinarily attack malignant cells, and ARGX-115 is thought to work by preventing the production of TGF-beta. By targeting GARP, the drug shuts off production of the cytokine and takes the brake off the immune response.

AbbVie has also agreed to fund further GARP-related research by Argenx for an initial period of two years.

It has been suggested that compounds that can block anti-GARP antibodies - alone or in combination with tumour vaccines or checkpoint inhibitors targeting the CTLA4 or PD1/PD-L1 pathways - may improve the efficiency of cancer immunotherapy.

AbbVie has been steadily trying to boost its presence in oncology in recent years, most notably through its $21bn acquisition of Pharmacyclics, which provided fast-growing haematological cancer therapy Imbruvica (ibrutinib). It is also rumoured to be in talks with Boehringer Ingelheim over a wide-ranging cancer partnership.

Meanwhile, AbbVie has also just signed a five-year collaboration with the University Of Chicago in the US to carry out joint research in a number of oncology areas, including breast, lung, prostate, colorectal and haematological cancer, among others.

Article by
Phil Taylor

21st April 2016

From: Sales

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