Agios, Celgene Hammer Out $1 Billion+ Metabolic Immuno-Oncology Deal

Published: May 19, 2016

Agios, Celgene Hammer Out $1 Billion+ Metabolic Immuno-Oncology Deal May 18, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Agios Pharmaceuticals inked a new global collaboration deal with Summit, New Jersey-based Celgene .

The two companies will collaborate on metabolic immuno-oncology, an offshoot from the hot field of immuno-oncology, where the immune system is programmed to attack cancer cells. In metabolic immuno-oncology, the immune system’s metabolic rate is enhanced, which is to say, supercharged, to fight cancer.

As part of the deal, Celgene will pay Agios $200 million upfront in cash, with various milestone payments possible. The collaboration deal is scheduled to last four years, and Agios can extend it for an additional two. Because the work is preclinical and competitive, specific targets have not been disclosed. All told, the deal has the potential to surpass $1 billion.

“The immune system’s ability to attack tumors is highly regulated by cellular metabolism,” said Rob Hershberg, Celgene’s chief scientific officer, in a statement. “This emerging discipline of metabolic immuno-oncology has great potential to provide novel insights and targets for cancer immunotherapy in solid and hematologic malignancies. This strategic agreement combines Agios’ scientific leadership in cellular metabolism with Celgene’s expertise and growing efforts in immuno-oncology, and builds upon the extremely productive partnership and working relationship that exists between our two companies.”

The two companies also rewrote a 2010 collaboration deal. Celgene has returned Agios’ AG-120. Also, the rights to two cancer metabolism programs that were discovered under that agreement, including one focused on MTAP (methylthioadenosine phosphorylase) deleted cancers, will move forward under the new research collaboration.

AG-120 is an experimental cancer compound, which is close to a Phase III trial for a subset of patients diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer. It is also being tested in other cancers.

As Xconomy points out, “Deserved or not, there is always a stigma attached to a drug that a large company sends back to a partner.”

David Schenkein, Agios’ chief executive officer, however, says it’s just about “simplifying the relationship” between the two companies. They continue to share rights to several other drugs and have been successfully collaborating since 2010. “We’ve always said that if we were going to do a research partnership now, it would be focused on an area of research where we felt someone else’s capabilities would allow us to really jumpstart into a new field,” Schenkein says.

Agios is evaluating AG-120 in several clinical trials. One is as a sole agent in the relapsed/refractory setting, while others are in combination with standard chemotherapy treatments as frontline approaches. It is also planning pivotal trials in acute myeloid leukemia, as well as in several solid tumors, such as cholangiocarcinoma and glioma.

“We are excited to consolidate the full worldwide rights for AG-120, providing us with another wholly owned investigational therapy discovered by Agios scientists to develop and commercialize along with our rare genetic disorders programs,” Schenkein said in a statement. “We know that people with AML have limited treatment options today, and we are committed to bringing AG-120 through pivotal development as quickly as possible.”

Celgene, for its part, is best known for its drugs for myeloma, Revlimid, Pomalyst/Imnovid, and Thalomid. The company has, however, been edging into immuno-oncology through partnerships with Bluebird Bio and Juno Therapeutics , where it has focused on CAR-T technology. Celgene is also working with AstraZeneca on developing a checkpoint inhibitor, another component of immuno-oncology.

The Agios deal has a lot of moving parts. It starts with $200 million upfront, but Celgene will have the option of picking up each program through Phase I dose escalation for a minimum of $30 million. For the metabolic immuno-oncology programs, as part of a global co-development and co-commercialization agreement, they will split costs and Agios is eligible for up to $169 million in clinical and regulatory milestone payments for each program.

Celgene also has the chance to choose a metabolic immuno-oncology program where it will share costs and profits 65/35, for which Agios could receive up to $209 million in milestones. And for any inflammation or autoimmune programs that might develop from the research, Celgene has an option for global licensing, development and commercialization. Agios could receive up to $385 million in various milestones, as well as double-digit tiered royalties on any net sales.

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