Celgene turns focus to solid tumors in I/O expansion
- Blood cancer giant Celgene plans to strengthen its focus on immuno-oncology and on solid tumors, building on its recent acquisition of BeiGene's PD-1 inhibitor BGB-A317.
- Company executives discussed on a July 27 conference call the potential of combining the Chinese biotech's checkpoint inhibitor with other drugs, particularly highlighting the rapidly emerging class of PARP inhibitors.
- For the second quarter, Celgene reported a 19% year-over-year increase in total revenue, driven principally by higher sales for its top-selling multiple myeloma treatment Revlimid (lenalidomide) as well as for the psoriasis medicine Otezla (apremilast).
While Celgene has long focused on hematological cancers, it has recently made a step into the potentially larger market of solid tumors.
In early July, Celgene snapped up the PD-1 inhibitor BGB-A317 from Chinese company BeiGene, acquiring worldwide rights outside Asia for $263 million upfront. The deal expands Celgene's existing presence in the space under a 2015 partnership with AstraZeneca on hematological indications for the British drugmaker's Imfinzi (durvalumab).
"We believe that BGB-A317 is potentially differentiated and provides us with the ability to combine a checkpoint inhibitor with our broad immuno-oncology portfolio," said Michael Pehl, Celgene's head of hematology & oncology on last week's earnings call. Pehl specifically noted how BGB-317 could accelerate Celgene's work in solid tumors.
Pehl also mentioned a "solid tumor development plan," which the company will share later in 2017, emphasizing the opportunities for combination therapies.
"[The plan] will have monotherapy, combinatorial approaches … potential targeted therapies, chemotherapy, and thoughtful I-O/I-O combinations," Pehl explained. "We're not ruling out any combination at this moment of time, but we feel we are extremely well positioned with the pipeline."
Company CEO Mark Alles suggested Celegene could look towards PARP inhibitors as an avenue for new combinations, citing the clinical evidence for the drug class in ovarian and other cancers.
The BGB-A317 deal is expected to close by the end of the third quarter, and Alles added: "I do think by the end of the year we'll have a comprehensive research approach that is fast to market, differentiated, that learns from everything that's going on today and that clearly mechanisms like PARP will be included in that program."
This, then, opens up the question of which company Celgene might look at for a potential partnership or acquisition.
Tesaro snagged approval for Zejula (niraparib) in March for maintenance treatment of ovarian cancer patients in complete or partial response following platinum-based chemotherapy. Clovis Oncology's Rubraca (rucaparib), on the other hand, has seen some strong Phase 3 results that could mean an expansion of its label — currently for third-line treatment for ovarian cancer patients with the BRCA mutation.
An acquisition would be pricey, however, and Clovis is now the only PARP agent with full global rights, after Tesaro inked a deal with Takeda for rights in Japan and several other Asian countries.
That deal was overshadowed, however, by the joint development and commercialization deal AstraZeneca signed with Merck & Co. centered on its PARP inhibitor Lynparza (olaparib). Merck paid $1.6 billion upfront and milestones could push total deal value as high as $8.5 billion. In return, Merck gets 50% of the gross profits from Lynparza and access to pair it with its own checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab).
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