Roche Terminates $1 Billion Cancer Deal With Molecular Partners AG

Roche Terminates $1 Billion Cancer Deal With Molecular Partners
July 24, 2015
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

BASEL, Switzerland – Roche and Molecular Partners AG have terminated their two-year-old $1 billion cancer research deal, Molecular Partners announced this morning.

The two companies were working under a 2013 agreement centered on Molecular Partners’ DARPin biologics technology. DARPins are non-antibody-based small proteins where a variable region has been engineered for target binding, which would allow them to penetrate cancerous tumors and deliver toxic agents to destroy the tumor. Now though, Roche is terminating its Pseudomonas exotoxin conjugate programs, including antibody and DARPin-based projects, Swiss-based Molecular Partners said this morning.

Christian Zahnd, Chief Executive Officer of Molecular Partners, said the DARPin platform generated highly differentiated binders in short time, which made it unfortunate that Roche was discontinuing their relationship. Molecular Partners will evaluate if DARPins from the collaboration will be added to its proprietary pipeline directly or repurposed in other programs, Zahnd said.

“We discussed other areas of mutual interest, but given our own proprietary focus on immuno-oncology, it made no sense to amend the current collaboration. This way, we can avoid working on potentially competing pathways,” Zahnd said in a statement.

Molecular Partners will continue to advance its own pipeline of DARPin therapies in oncology, including the experimental MP0250, which is in a Phase I clinical study for solid tumors and MP0274, which is in trials for the treatment of HER2 and HER3 breast cancers.

Following the announcement of the deal’s end, Molecular Partners’ stock fell about 5 percent on the Swiss Stock Exchange. The company went public last year with a $100 million IPO on Switzerland’s SIX exchange.

Although the Roche partnership is now over, Molecular Partners has struck deals with other large pharmaceutical companies, including Allergan Inc. . This week Allergan reinforced its collaboration with Molecular Partners in DARPin therapies for ophthalmology. Part of the reinforcement included Allergan’s promise to make $35 million in accelerated milestone payments. The deal with Allergan is worth approximately $1.7 billion for Molecular Partners.

In addition to Allergan, Janssen has also expressed interest in working with Molecular Partners in immunology, the company said.

The ending of the deal with Molecular Partners comes on the heels of Roche’s strong financial report for the first half of 2015, which included Roche chief executive Severin Schwan saying the company has more than 40 oncology products in clinical development and have made significant progress in cancer immunotherapies. Swiss-based Roche is seeing great promise in its cancer immunotherapy candidate atezolizumab (anti-PDL1) for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. The drug was granted breakthrough therapy status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year. The drug is also showing promise in the treatment of breast cancer and bladder cancers. Phase II data released earlier this month showed atezolizumab shrank tumors in people with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial bladder cancer.

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