Dragonfly Partners With AbbVie to Take on Autoimmune and Oncology Indications

At the center of the agreement are Dragonfly’s novel NK cell engager-based immunotherapies.

Dragonfly Therapeutics and AbbVie have forged a multi-target research collaboration to advance new treatment options for autoimmune and oncology indications. At the center of the agreement are Dragonfly’s novel NK cell engager-based immunotherapies.

The two companies will focus on the development of medications aimed at specific targets developed with Dragonfly’s TriNKET platform. 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 linking to the natural killer cells and sending them to the cancer cells, it will increase the chances of eliminating the tumors.

Under terms of the collaboration, Illinois-based AbbVie will gain the option to license the fruits of the agreement. Tom Hudson, head of research and development and chief scientific officer at AbbVie, said the company is committed to developing new therapies, which includes investing in technologies and platforms developed by other companies.

“The Dragonfly team has made impressive progress in developing their platform and demonstrating the potential of their technology to potentially treat a variety of diseases,” Hudson said in a statement.

Dragonfly Chief Executive Officer Bill Haney touted AbbVie as a leader in treating chronic immune-mediated diseases, as well as developing treatments for cancer patients. He said they are looking forward to the collaboration with AbbVie and “advancing new treatment options for patients.”

As the patent cliff looms for AbbVie’s cash cow Humira, the company has been transforming its pipeline with a keen focus on immuno-oncology. The company has struck a number of developmental deals over the past year, including a collaboration with Idera Pharmaceuticals targeting metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. AbbVie also snapped up Seattle-based Mavupharma and its STING (STimulator of INterferon Genes) pathway-focused treatments in July. The STING pathway plays an important role in the innate immune system, which is the body’s first line of defense against various pathogens, including the development of cancerous tumors.

Financial terms of the deal with AbbVie were not announced. The companies said AbbVie will pay Dragonfly an upfront payment, as well as future success-based milestone payments and royalties. Last year, Merck and Dragonfly entered into a deal focused on solid tumors that was worth an estimated $695 million. Last year the company struck a five-year agreement with Celgene to develop immuno-oncology therapeutics for hematological cancers based on Dragonfly’s TriNKET technology platform.