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Is acquisitive Celgene now eyeing CAR-T specialist Juno?

Rumours circulate just days after the US biotech confirms ImpactBio purchase

Celgene

Celgene is in talks with Juno Therapeutics about a possible takeover deal, right after cutting a $7bn deal to buy Impact Labs, according to media reports.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said that a deal could be announced within weeks, sparking a 45% surge in Juno’s shares in after-hours trading. The two companies are already partners, signing a 10-year collaboration in 2015 to co-develop drugs for cancer and immune disease.

That alliance covers chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapies, including Juno’s lead candidate JCAR017 which is in the final stages of development and could get its first approvals later this year. CAR-T is a new approach to immuno-oncology that uses modified versions of a patient's own white blood cells to attack cancer, homing in one tumour-associated antigens.

If confirmed, the deal mirrors the $11.9bn takeover deal for CAR-T rival Kite Therapeutics by Gilead Sciences last year, and reflects the biopharma sector’s increasing appetite for complex medicinal products such as cell and gene therapies. Gilead followed the Kite deal with a smaller buyout of CAR-T firm Cell Design Labs last month.

Interest in CAR-T therapies in particular has been growing since the first two products in the category - Novartis’ Kymriah (tisagenleucel) and Gilead/Kite’s Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) - were approved for marketing in haematological cancers last year after a protracted period when the safety of this type of therapy was in question.

Buying Juno could make a lot of sense for Celgene, which is already a big player in blood cancers and could potentially pair its drug-based therapies such as blockbuster Revlimid (lenalidomide) with Juno’s CAR-T candidates. Celgene has been hit of late by downgraded sales estimates for its blood cancer drugs, as well as a failed clinical programme in Crohn’s disease once tipped to be a potential blockbuster.

There’s no word yet on the possible terms of a Juno buy, although the Financial Times notes that the company had a market capitalisation of $5.2bn ahead of yesterday’s share price leap.

The rumours have started circulating just a few days after Celgene agreed a deal to acquire San Diego-based start-up Impact Bio, adding to its haematology business with a JAK2 inhibitor - fedratinib - in development for myelofibrosis and polycythaemia vera.

Article by
Phil Taylor

17th January 2018

From: Sales

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