Lilly and ImmuNext Ink $605 Million+ Autoimmune Research Pact

Lilly logo on side of large building

Jonathan Weiss /

Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company inked a global licensing and research deal with Lebanon, NH-based ImmuNext. The two companies will work on a preclinical target in hopes of finding new therapies for autoimmune diseases that regulate immune cell metabolism.

Under the terms of the deal, Lilly is paying ImmuNext $40 million up front. ImmuNext is eligible for up to $565 million in development and commercialization milestones in addition to tiered royalties that can range from the mid-single to low-double digits on any products that come out of the collaboration.

Lilly will gain an exclusive, worldwide license to develop and commercialize the target. The two companies will also launch a 3-year research collaboration in support of the development.

Click to sign up for newsletters

“Immunology is an important area of research for Lilly, and we seek novel targets that could develop into new medicines for patients suffering with autoimmune diseases,” stated Ajay Nirula, vice president of immunology at Lilly. “Regulating the metabolism of immune cells is a promising approach to treating these disease, and we look forward to working with ImmuNext to advance their immunometabolism target.”

ImmuNext focuses on immunotherapy for cancer and autoimmune diseases. It has cut similar deals with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, Roche and Sanofi. The company’s most advanced compound is in clinical development and is called VISTA, a V-domain Ig suppressor of T-cell activation, which is a novel checkpoint regulator.

The company’s anti-VISTA is partnered with Janssen for a cancer therapy. Another product, VISTA agonists, is partnered with Roche for autoimmune diseases. The deal with Sanofi was to develop and commercialize INX-021, a CD40L monoclonal antibody for a range of autoimmune diseases including lupus and multiple sclerosis.

This deal is another indication Lilly is bolstering its efforts in immunology and immuno-oncology. In mid-February, it completed its acquisition of Loxo Oncology, which it acquired for $8 billion. In that buyout, it acquired Vitrakvi and LOXO-195, with which Loxo had a global collaboration deal with Bayer Consumer Care AG. It also picked up Loxo’s pipeline products, including LOXO-292, an oral RET inhibitor that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted Breakthrough Therapy designation for three indications, and LOXO-305, an oral BTK inhibitor in Phase I/II trials, being studied in B-cell leukemias and lymphomas.

And in May 2018, Lilly acquired Redwood City, Calif,-based ARMO BioSciences for about $1.6 billion. ARMO is a late-stage immuno-oncology company. ARMO’s lead product candidate is pegilodecakin, a PEGylated IL-10, which has shown clinical benefit as a monotherapy and in combination with both chemotherapy and checkpoint inhibitor therapy, across several cancer types. It is currently in a Phase III trial in pancreatic cancer, as well as earlier-phase trials in lung and renal cell cancer, melanoma and other solid tumor types.

At the time, Levi Garraway, senior vice president, global development and medical affairs, Lilly Oncology, stated, “As we develop our immuno-oncology portfolio, Lilly will pursue medicines that use the body’s immune system in new ways to treat cancer. We believe that pegilodecakin has a unique immunologic mechanism of action that could eventually allow physicians to offer new hope for many cancer patients.”

Back to news