AbbVie Gets First Dibs on arGEN-X's Immuno-Oncology Drug in Deal Worth $685 Million

AbbVie Gets First Dibs on argenx's Immuno-Oncology Drug in Deal Worth $685 Million April 21, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

NORTH CHICAGO, Ill. – AbbVie struck a deal with Belgium-based drugmaker argenx worth up to $685 million on a preclinical immuno-oncology drug targeting GARP, a protein believed to contribute to immuno-suppressive effects of T-cells.

AbbVie will pay argenx $40 million upfront for the development and commercialization ARGX-115. Argenx will also be eligible to receive $20 million in additional milestone payments. The remaining hundreds of millions of dollars that are possible parts of the deal would come to argenx based on pre-determined milestones as well as tiered, up to double-digit royalties on net sales upon commercialization, the companies announced this morning.

Tim van Hauwermeiren, chief executive officer of argenx, said in a statement his company believes ARGX-115 has the potential to advance immuno-oncology by selectively targeting tumor immune escape pathways.

"The ability to modulate the body's own immune system to fight cancer is one of the most promising scientific advancements over the past decade," said Anil Singhal, vice president of early oncology development at AbbVie. "We believe that the ARGX-115 program is a unique opportunity to explore the potential to block certain immune-suppressive pathways that allow cancers to grow."

GARP is a protein present on the surface of regulatory T lymphocyte, also referred to as Tregs, which inhibit immune responses in order to prevent unwanted auto-immune disorders. But in patients suffering from cancer, Tregs play a negative role by suppressing immune responses needed to destroy cancer cells. GARP allows Tregs to execute their immunosuppressive action by triggering the production of an inhibitory messenger, a cytokine known as "TGF-beta," according to data provided by argenx.

In addition to the ARGX-115 program, and upon reaching a predetermined preclinical stage milestone, AbbVie will fund further GARP-related research by argenx for an initial period of two years. AbbVie will have the right to license additional therapeutic programs emerging from this research, for which argenx could receive associated milestone and royalty payments.

Immunotherapy is one of the areas of cancer research many companies, such as AstraZeneca , Genentech , Clovis Oncology , Kite Pharmaceuticals and more, are focusing on for cancer treatments. Immunotherapy is a treatment approach that focuses on harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. Scientists are using various approaches to trigger immune system responses, including the use of checkpoint inhibitors

The deal will also grant argenx the right to co-promote ARGX-115-based products in the European Union and Swiss Economic Area and combine the product with its own future immuno-oncology programs. Should AbbVie not exercise its option to license ARGX-115, argenx retains the right to pursue development of ARGX-115 alone, the two companies said.

Not only is AbbVie furthering its immunotherapy position with the argenx collaboration, but the company also struck a five-year agreement with the University of Chicago to improve the pace of discovery and advance medical research in oncology. Both organizations will initially work together to advance research in several areas of oncology, which include breast, lung, prostate, colorectal and hematological cancer, AbbVie announced this week.

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