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Gilead expands in cancer with $510m YM BioSciences deal

Lands JAK inhibitor CYT387

Gilead Sciences has developed its emerging oncology pipeline with a $510m offer to buy Canada's YM Biosciences, including lead product CYT387 for haematological cancer myelofibrosis.

The antiviral drugs specialist has agreed to buy YM BioSciences for $2.95 per share in cash and expects the deal to close in the first quarter of 2013.

The main driver for the purchase is CYT387, a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor in the same therapeutic class as Incyte Corp and Novartis' fast-growing Jakafi/Jakavi (ruxolitinib), which was approved to treat myelofibrosis in the US last year and looks set to bring in around $300m in its first 12 months on the market.

Like Jakafi, CYT387 inhibits JAK1 and JAK2, enzymes implicated in a number of disorders including "myeloproliferative diseases, inflammatory disorders and certain cancers", according to Gilead.

Data from a 166-patient phase I/II trial of CYT387 was presented at the recently concluded American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting in Atlanta, and showed that the drug achieved a 37 per cent spleen response rate, while reducing the percentage of patients needing blood transfusions from 44 per cent at enrolment to less than 10 per cent after 40 weeks of treatment.

"This acquisition represents an opportunity to add a complementary clinical programme in the area of haematologic cancers to our growing oncology portfolio," said Gilead's chief scientific officer Norbert Bischofberger.

At the moment Gilead's cancer pipeline consists of phosphoinositide-3 kinase (PI3K) delta inhibitor idelalisib (GS-1101), in phase III trials for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and indolent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (iNHL), as well as simtuzumab, an antibody in phase II with potential in myelofibrosis, colorectal and pancreatic cancer, and certain fibrotic diseases.

"We believe CYT387 could provide important clinical benefit for patients with myelofibrosis, including potential improvements with regard to anaemia and decreased dependence on blood transfusions," he added, noting that Gilead intends to advance the drug into phase III testing "as quickly as possible".

Aside from Jakafi, other JAK inhibitors being developed for myelofibrosis include Sanofi's selective JAK2 inhibitor SAR302503 - phase II data for which were presented at ASH - and Cell Therapeutics Inc's pacritinib, which was licensed earlier this year from Singaporean company S*Bio in a $30m deal. 

Both of these are already in phase III testing and also have different profiles, acting as selective JAK2 inhibitors. The significance of this more selective mechanism is yet to be established in the clinic.

Investors barely reacted to the news of the deal, with Gilead's share price inching up fractionally to $76.63. The lack of reaction is attributed by EvaluatePharma's EP Vantage service to the fact that Gilead will be around three years behind Jakafi, while the company's track record outside antivirals is patchy.

"The last time Gilead Sciences experimented outside its core business of anti-infective drugs the outcome was less than spectacular: an expensive push into cardiovascular medicine that has returned little to the California group beyond the angina drug Ranexa," it said.

On the plus side, EP Vantage noted that the ASH data for CYT387 "match or exceed the Incyte agent on anaemia and spleen response", adding that this "should quell some of the doubts about the acquisition".

13th December 2012

From: Research

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