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Roivant forms Asian cell therapy ‘vant’, with Medigene’s help

Latest venture taps into Asian talent and markets

roivant

Vivek Ramaswamy’s Roivant Sciences has launched another company, this time focused on cell therapies for cancer and directed at the Asian market.

The new biotech – called Cytovant – is being set up by Roivant in conjunction with its recently-formed Chinese subsidiary Sinovant, and starts life with a pipeline based on two programmes licensed from Germany’s Medigene.

The deal with Medigene covers rights to a research-stage T cell receptor (TCR) against tumour antigen NY-ESO-1 and Medigene’s dendritic cell vaccine targeting WT-1 and PRAME in Greater China, South Korea, and Japan. The two companies work also together on two additional TCR projects that will be “tailored for patients in East Asia.”

The German company says it is getting a $10m upfront fee and is in line for development, regulatory, and commercial milestone payments that could reach $1bn across all four programmes. It will also be reimbursed for R&D costs and will pick up royalties on sales if any of the programmes reach the market.

Dolores

Dolores Schendel

“T cell receptors are the scouts of the immune system - they help T cells recognize and destroy cancer cells,” said Dolores Schendel, Medigene’s chief scientific officer. “This partnership implements Medigene’s strategy to discover TCRs with various HLA [human leukocyte antigen] specificities in order to address different populations and markets.”

Cytovant is another example of a departure from Ramaswamy’s original vision of picking up drugs abandoned by other companies and giving them a new lease of life, in favour of licensing emerging therapies from other biotech players.

That approach most notably came unstuck at Axovant, Roivant’s neuroscience unit that ran with a couple of in-licensed Alzheimer’s disease candidates that bombed in trials before re-inventing itself - with some preliminary success - as a gene therapy company.

The new biotech will be headed by former president and chief scientific officer of China’s Mab-Legend Biotech John Xu, a molecular immunologist and translational scientist who has previously held senior positions at Shanghai Benemae Pharmaceutical and GlaxoSmithKline China.

It has been formed just a few months after Roivant launched Shanghai-based Sinovant with a pipeline of 11 investigational drugs aimed at diseases with a high incidence in Greater China and other Asian markets, including FGFR inhibitor derazantinib for liver cancer.

Article by
Phil Taylor

4th April 2019

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