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Astellas signs up to immuno-oncology deal

Japanese firm the latest pharma company to buy into the next-gen cancer therapy area

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Astellas Pharma has signed a new and exclusive R&D deal with biotech firm Potenza Therapeutics in the growing new area of immuno-oncology.

The collaboration - financial details of which have not been disclosed - will see the companies develop new and novel mechanisms of action in drugs targeting immune checkpoint pathways, co-stimulatory signals and regulatory T cells.

This is known as immuno-oncology, and area that essentially 'teaches' the body's immune system how to detect and fight off certain cancers - a system usually turned off when a patient has cancer.

The agreement includes an option that allows for the future acquisition of Potenza by Astellas on pre-determined terms at the end of the collaboration period.

Under the immediate terms of the collaboration agreement, Potenza will lead drug discovery activities and deliver development candidates to Astellas.

Meanwhile, Astellas will be responsible for clinical development activities and commercialisation. Specific financial terms will not be disclosed, but the companies said that it will include an equity investment, option fee, research funding, and potential future acquisition and milestone payments.

This area is seen as the next generation of cancer development with US firms Dendreon and Bristol-Myers Squibb the first in the industry to bring these immuno-therapy cancer drugs to the market in the form of Dendreon for prostate cancer in 2010, and Yervoy (ipilimumab) for advanced melanoma in 2011.

In the past six months, BMS and Merck & Co have also brought out a new class of cancer immuno-therapy in the form of their PD-1 drugs Opdivo (nivolumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for skin cancers and lung cancers.

This new PD-1 class is expected to be making $30bn at its peak by the next decade, with Roche and AstraZeneca hoping to bring their PD-1 medicines to market in the next year.

Astellas currently only has a small cancer pipeline with its main marketed product being the prostate cancer drug Xtandi (enzalutamide).

The firm has said in recent years that it wishes to expand more deeply into oncology, which can be highly lucrative, and this deal is the first step toward building up a larger pipeline.

The collaboration with Potenza is not looking into PD-1 development, but rather different mechanisms of action within the immuno-therapy range.

Kenji Yasukawa, senior VP and chief strategy officer at Astellas, explained: “Despite the recent clinical success of checkpoint-blocking monoclonal antibodies targeting PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA-4, there still remains significant unmet medical need in non-responder patients and unresponsive tumor types. Astellas is focusing on this unmet medical need with novel mechanisms of action and modalities.

“I am pleased that we are collaborating with Potenza, whose team of scientific founders, management and venture capitalists all have a proven track record in the field of cancer immunotherapy. This collaboration is one piece of Astellas' cancer immunotherapy strategy, and we will continue to make aggressive investments in this field.”

Daniel Hicklin, co-founder of Potenza and the company's CEO, added: “We are at the beginning of a new era in cancer therapy. First generation immuno-oncology therapeutics have demonstrated meaningful clinical benefit to patients with certain cancers. The new targets and pathways that Potenza is working on offer promise for continued expansion of immunotherapy treatment options.
“We are excited to partner with Astellas to progress our programs in support of their strategy to become a global leader in oncology and next-generation therapeutics.”

Article by
Ben Adams

22nd April 2015

From: Research

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