EXCLUSIVE: Juno Therapeutics/Celgene Deal "Great Validation" for Cellular Therapy, TxCell CEO Tells BioSpace

EXCLUSIVE: Juno/Celgene Deal
July 1, 2015
By Riley McDermid, BioSpace.com Breaking News Sr. Editor

Biotech executives are beginning to eye the $1 billion Juno Therapeutics /Celgene Corporation deal announced earlier this week in a new light, with Stephane Boissel, the chief executive of TxCell, telling BioSpace the pact is “great validation” for the field of cellular therapy.

TxCell is a developer of personalized T cell immunotherapies for the treatment of severe chronic inflammatory diseases with high medical need.

“[The deal] is a great validation of the fact that the cellular therapy field is now very mature and has good chances of becoming a marketed field with viable business model,” Boissel told BioSpace.

“Furthermore, we at TxCell have taken the technology used in the field, and are developing excellent data in auto-immunity and inflammation, when the rest of the market is concentrating on oncology,” he said. “This means that the market potential in the cellular therapy field is increasing in our space as well.”

Wall Street is already having mixed feelings about a massive deal announced Monday between Celgene Corporation(CELG) and Juno Therapeutics (JUNO), with some saying the $1 billion collaboration is massively overpriced and must mean Celgene is either “desperate or insane” to pay such a hefty fee for the 10-year agreement.

But Boissel said he wasn’t personally surprised to see Celgene was involved, because Celgene and Novartis AG has so far been the main Big Pharma companies to really understand the potential in the sector.

“This is a new field, or at least a field that is just coming to maturity. Juno was formed in 2009 and Kite Pharma, Inc. in 2013. And Celgene and Novartis are first pharma/large biotech mover in this space,” Boissel told BioSpace. “Celgene has had a cellular therapy division for a while and Novartis entered into it at low cost and low noise through an academic collaboration with University of Pennsylvania. Others will follow like most followed BMS when ipilimumab started to generate interesting clinical data.”

The companies jointly announced the collaborative agreement to leverage T cell therapeutic strategies Monday afternoon. The collaboration will have with an initial focus on Chimeric Antigen Receptor Technology (CAR-T) and T Cell Receptor (TCR) technologies, the companies said. Juno's stock soared in afterhours trading Monday, hitting a high of $64 after the stock closed at $46.61.

Under the terms of the deal Celgene Corporation (CELG) has acquired a $1 billion stake in Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics (JUNO) as the two companies entered into a 10 year collaborative agreement to leverage combined immunology and oncology expertise to develop treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases. Celgene said it will absorb much of that cost in the third quarter of 2015.

Boissel wouldn’t comment on whether he thinks Celgene paid too much, but he did say the deal itself was interesting for several reasons.

“I do not know the deal dynamics so I cannot comment. There must have been some intense competition,” he said. “Remember what people were saying when Gilead Sciences, Inc. paid $12 billion for Pharmasset: This huge investment for a Phase 2 company was only paid back after a few months of sales of Sovaldi.”

That has Boissel musing about what the next “big thing” will be in research—and where Big Pharma’s money could go in the coming years. His bet is on auto-immunity and inflammation.

“The focus of cellular therapy is currently in cancer, with circa 40 percent of clinical research. But potential of these technologies is probably even bigger in auto-immunity and inflammation, which affect more than 5 percent of the world’s population with more than 80 different diseases and today account for less than circa 5 percent of cellular therapy clinical research,” he said. “A market of over $100 billion per year, with two drugs, Humira and Remicade, the two best-selling biologics accounting for more than $20 billion.”

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