AbbVie Forges $105 Million+ CD39 Inhibitor Alliance With Tizona

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Privately-held Tizona Therapeutics snagged $105 million in upfront cash as its cancer antibody TTX-030 is the centerpiece of a collaborative effort with Illinois-based AbbVie.

The two companies intend to combine their R&D capabilities with a focus on CD39-targeted therapeutics. CD39 is the enzyme that is responsible for a key immune regulatory action. The ATP-adenosine axis has become a focus of research in the tumor microenvironment due to its ability to control the inflammatory and suppressive activities of immune cells. CD39 is the enzyme responsible for that action. Tizona’s TTX-030 is an inhibitor of CD39. An investigational new drug application for TTX-030 has been accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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The idea is that by blocking the actions of CD39, TTX-030 will prevent the formation of immune suppressive extracellular adenosine. In addition to preventing the formation of suppressive adenosine, TTX-030 also prevents the degradation of ATP. By doing so, that preserves its ability to stimulate dendritic and myeloid-derived cells responsible for innate immunity and immune cell priming necessary for adaptive immunity, the company said.

It’s this potential impact on the tumor microenvironment that caught AbbVie’s attention. Mo Trikha, head of oncology early development at AbbVie, said there is tremendous promise in exploring ways that the tumor microenvironment can be modulated to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

“The Tizona team has generated compelling preclinical data for their TTX-030 program, and we look forward to a productive collaboration focused on rapidly advancing this novel first-in-class antibody,” Trikha said in a statement.

Courtney Beers, head of immunology at South San Francisco-based Tizona, which launched in 2016, noted that tumors can employ multiple strategies to create a tolerogenic microenvironment. That microenvironment reduces the immune system’s ability to detect and fight cancer, she said.

“Preclinical research shows that inhibiting CD39 may hold the key to restoring and bolstering immune responses against tumors. In AbbVie, we have a partner who shares our passion for science and commitment to delivering breakthrough innovation to patients with cancer,” Beers said in a statement.

Under terms of the deal, AbbVie handed over $105 million in upfront funding for the exclusive option of licensing Tizona’s CD39 program, including TTX-030. Additionally, AbbVie said it has made an equity investment in Tizona, but terms of that investment were not disclosed in the announcement.

Tizona will lead clinical development through completion of Phase 1b studies, after which AbbVie has an exclusive option to lead global development and commercial activities. Tizona retains an option to co-develop and co-promote in the United States and is eligible for success-based development and commercial milestones and tiered royalties on net sales.

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