BMS Licenses IL-12 from Dragonfly in $475 Million Deal

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Bristol Myers Squibb plunked down $475 million for the exclusive license to Dragonfly Therapeutics’ interleukin-12 (IL-12) investigational immunotherapy program, including its extended half-life cytokine DF6002 as a potential treatment for solid and hematological cancers.

Dragonfly’s DF6002 is a monovalent IL-12 immunoglobulin Fc fusion protein proposed to achieve strong anti-tumor efficacy by establishing an inflammatory tumor microenvironment necessary for productive anti-tumor responses. In July, Dragonfly launched a Phase I/II study in advanced solid tumors. The scope of the study will investigate the safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetics, biological and clinical activity of DF6002 alone and in combination with PD-1 inhibition in patients with locally advanced or metastatic solid tumors, followed by expansion in selected indications. Bristol Myers Squibb intends to advance the research and development of DF6002 in oncology and hematology.

With BMS’ increased attention to the oncology market, Rupert Vessey, president of BMS’ Research & Early Development Group, said the addition of an IL-12 Fc-fusion protein was important to bolster its pipeline.

“We look forward to our continued work with Dragonfly to further guide the program’s clinical data at this pivotal point in its development, as we continue to deliver on our commitment to serve more patients with cancer,” Vessey said in a brief statement.

Under terms of the deal for DF6002, Dragonfly will receive $475 million in near-term upfront payments and is eligible to receive performance-based development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments. Additionally, Dragonfly is eligible to receive up to 24% royalties on worldwide net sales.

The licensing of DF6002 comes about 10 days after BMS licensed its fourth TriNKET immunotherapy drug candidate from Dragonfly. Dragonfly’s TriNKET (Tri-specific, NK cell Engager Therapies) bind to the proteins expressed on both cancer cells and NK cells. The TriNKET system provides “an active connection between cancer cells, and cells of the immune system including NK cells themselves, T cells, B cells, and other cells that help attack and kill cancer,” according to the company. NK cells are part of the natural immune system of every human body. They also express proteins on their surface.

When the binding occurs, Dragonfly said its TriNKET system stimulates NK cells, which makes them aware of cancerous cells. That stimulation allows the NK cells to both kill the cancer cells, as well as notify other immune cells to attack the cancer. In other words, Dragonfly believes that by linking to the natural killer cells and sending them to the cancer cells, it will increase the chances of eliminating the tumors.

Since the original 2017 collaboration focusing on hematology malignancies, the companies have agreed to two additional collaborations across solid tumors, and autoimmune disease. Bill Haney, co-founder and chief executive officer of Dragonfly Therapeutics said the company is excited about another collaboration with BMS. He said the pharma giant’s range of oncology agents makes it a “fantastic partner to accelerate the development of DF6002,” the most advanced cytokine in Dragonfly’s pipeline.

“We are confident that the talent, experience and commitment to science-driven innovation of the Bristol Myers Squibb team will enable DF6002 to discover novel, lifesaving solutions for patients,” Haney said.

BMS isn’t the only large pharma company to forge a relationship with Waltham, Mass.-based Dragonfly. Both AbbVie and Merck have struck TriNKET-related collaborations with Dragonfly.

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