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Baxalta inks $1.6bn immuno-oncology deal with Symphogen

Comes as the company's takeover negotiations with Shire continue

BaxaltaDespite a possible deal with Shire in the offing, Baxalta has shown it is business-as-usual with a $1.6bn alliance for the development of new cancer drugs.

Baxalta is paying $175m upfront for an option on a series of six checkpoint inhibitors in early-stage development at privately-held Danish biopharma Symphogen, along with milestone payments worth up to $1.4bn if all the candidates reach the market.

The scale of the deal is yet another indicator of pharma's enormous appetite for immuno-oncology candidates, with the sizeable upfront payment belying that all none of the six candidates have entered clinical trials yet.

Nevertheless it is unlikely to jeopardise the ongoing negotiations between Shire and Baxalta over a $32bn takeover - said to be in the latter stages - with some analysts suggesting it will only strengthen Shire's resolve to see the deal done.

Baxalta is not a recognised specialist in oncology - its only marketed cancer drug is leukaemia therapy Oncaspar (pegaspargase) which it bought last year for $900m - but has said it sees the therapeutic category as a core R&D focus. Last year, the company said its pipeline assets in oncology have market potential of around $10bn.

Copenhagen-based Symphogen said the first of the six candidates will start clinical testing in 2017 and that it would be responsible for funding phase I development.

Checkpoint inhibitors such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo (nivolumab) and Merck & Co's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) - both PD-1 inhibitors - are already making headway in the cancer market. These drugs - along with others in development from the likes of Roche, AstraZeneca and Merck KGaA/Pfizer - work by removing braking mechanisms that stop tumours being attacked by the immune system. 

They are predicted to become huge sellers - with some market watchers predicting the PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors alone could create a market worth $30bn a year by the end of the decade.

The identity of the mechanisms targeted in the Baxalta/Symphogen alliance have not been divulged, but the Danish company focuses on the development of mixed monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) that address multiple targets in a single drug product.

Among the targets listed in its pipeline are 'microenvironment' targets such as T lymphocytes, tumour-associated macrophages and tumour endothelial cells, as well as cell surface proteins.

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th January 2016

From: Sales

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