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Celgene says no to Mereo’s cancer drug etigilimab

UK biotech will focus on rare disease drugs

Mereo BioPharma

Mereo BioPharma has lost Celgene as a partner for anti-TIGIT drug etigilimab, one of two drugs acquired when Mereo merged with OncoMed Pharma earlier this year.

The UK-listed biotech said it is working with Celgene to bring the option agreement to a close, and after retaining rights to etigilimab will try to find another partner for the programme.

Etigilimab is a cancer immunotherapy that works by binding to the TIGIT receptor and interrupting a pathway that is thought to prevent the T cells of the immune system from attacking malignant cells in the body.

The antibody has passed a phase 1a dose-escalation study in patients with a range of advanced cancers and is currently being trialled in a phase 1b study in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab).

Mereo said in a stock exchange statement that Celgene’s decision was “for strategic product portfolio considerations”, adding it is hopeful of finding a new partner once the phase 1b data comes in.

It’s not the first time Celgene has walked away from one of OncoMed’s drug candidates. Ahead of the Mereo merger, it decided not to pursue a project focusing on navicixizumab, a bispecific antibody in early-stage testing for ovarian cancer.

Celgene’s collaboration with OncoMed dates back to 2013, when it paid $177m upfront for options on up to six cancer programmes with a total deal value of around $3.3bn if all the candidates were developed successfully.

That was before a run of failed trials and lost partnerships for California-based OncoMed that eventually forced it to take an axe to its workforce and research projects in 2017, before being folded into Mereo in April.

GlaxoSmithKline-partnered tarextumab for pancreatic cancer was the first casualty in 2016, followed by Celgene-partnered demicizumab a year later, and then Bayer pulled out of its alliance.

Denise Scots-Knight

Denise Scots-Knight

Mereo’s chief executive Denise Scots-Knight said the company would continue to focus on the development of its rare disease drugs, setrusumab for osteogenesis imperfecta and alvelestat (MPH-966) for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, while looking for partners for its other non-rare disease candidates.

Along with etigilimab, this includes acumapimod for severe exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), which has phase 2 data in hand, as well as navicixizumab which is in a phase 1b trial in platinum-resistant ovarian cancer.

Article by
Phil Taylor

20th June 2019

From: Research

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